*This is the first in an installment of a series I intend to write about my five years of experience as a foster mom.
In August of 2010, I found myself suddenly in Tanzania on a bus full of high school students, headed to a church service in the little village of Tenende near the Malawi border. My bonus father is a single origin, bean to bar chocolate maker. Part of his community service oriented business model is to teach young people about socially responsible entrepreneurship, which includes taking youth on origin trips to see where the cocoa beans come from and how the process of making award winning chocolate begins. On a Thursday before the trip, my stepfather called me and asked if I wanted to go to Africa as space opened up for a chaperone. I immediately said yes. Three days later I was on my way. They say travel changes people and this is true. I had no idea how profoundly this trip would change my life forever.
Our Sprinter bus pulled up to the church and we were immediately surrounded by the most beautiful, joyful singing I’ve ever heard. Children in brightly colored dresses swarmed around us and led us inside a dark building made of mud bricks, filled with simple handmade pews. Then, there was more music. Honey-toned singing honoring us as guests and expressing gratitude for the day. I’d never heard music like this before in my life. It was the sound of creation, the rhythm of saints. The vibrations filled my chest and every inch of my body. I felt more alive than I’ve ever been. A sleeping part of me came back home to roost in my heart. I felt God. God was there, in a tiny church made of dirt. I knew this to be true. We all felt it, that much was obvious.
The service began. I don’t really recall the words that were said, just how we felt. We all cried, touched on a soul level by the warmth of our welcome and the Presence inside the church. Then, the offerings started. I was told by a guide the people in this community expect to give until it hurts. They leave nothing for themselves, expecting their Creator to provide for all their needs. This concept stunned me. Then, as this was being whispered in my ear, I saw an elderly hunchbacked woman, making it up the aisle with her offering in a small, rough handmade basket. She placed in on the floor in front of the altar, slowly bowing down in a gesture of thanksgiving and even more slowly making her way back upright. I saw her offering. The basket held three eggs. I understood this was likely her food for the week. And yet she placed it on the floor in a gesture of complete trust and faith, and walked away, peace radiating from her lined face.
This gesture broke me. My comfortable, upper middle class life flashed in front of my eyes. Clean water on demand, a fridge full of food, all the money anyone could possibly want. I’d never experienced true sacrifice, never been without my needs being met. I never had to rely on a greater power to provide for me, never knew the gift of living in allowance, letting God show up in miraculous ways. It was clear these people knew gifts that I did not. I thought of the stack of paperwork on my desk at home. The application to become a foster mom I’d set aside a month before, not sure if I was ready to disrupt the comfort of my existence by caring for hurting children with big behaviors. Honestly, the initial trainings scared me. What if I couldn’t do it?
Then, the next thought came. What if becoming a foster mom was my own three egg gesture? What if I opened my home, gave until it hurt, let myself witness the miracles that show up best when we are uncomfortable? How could I live in my pile of riches and not share my blessings? In this moment, everything changed on a dime. It really wasn’t a decision at all. It was a vow. A vow to dare greatly, go big, give everything, be all in. And so on the bus on the way home, I told the group I decided to go home, open my home and my heart, and finish the paperwork. Three months later, our house was licensed foster home with a small painting of three eggs hanging on the wall.
My life would never be the same.