my friend Esther

It was a good weekend.

Busy.

Exhausting…but the good kind of exhausting.

This weekend I attended a conference regarding foster care, adoption, orphan care and so many other things associated with those topics. It was so good. I am still processing what Dr. Barbara Sorrells shared. I am confident I’ll post more on that in the coming weeks, but today I wanted to share about one of the topics discussed. Orphan Prevention….kind of. (I know an ‘orphan’ is a child that has lost parents due to death, so I use that term loosely here)

If you read this blog over the last year, you know I tried to share our adoption story very authentically. You also know I’ve mentioned that adoption is not THE answer in regards to the worldwide ‘orphan’ crisis. I’ve mentioned community development, fighting poverty, advocating for children and families…ways to be a voice for those that have none.Β  Jen Hatmaker so honestly shared this weekend on that very topic. And so many adoptive parents I know often talk about that common theme – how do we prevent kids from becoming orphans? How do we help families that want to stay together, stay together? I will ALWAYS be an adoption advocate. However, I am completely confident that adoption is not the only answer regarding kids in crises…kids without family. I do believe that for many kids, both in the US and internationally, the need for adoption can be prevented.

The whole concept of preventing kids from entering the system (whether US foster care or overseas orphanages) is so huge.Β  And it comes with countless issues and challenges. Poverty and lack of education are often driving forces behind families being broken. So many challenges arise when you speak of global hunger and education issues – it often causes us to give up before we even try.Β  Because I mean, really, in a practical sense how do we do that?

There are a million answers to that question.

A million ways to make a difference.

A million more than that.

Today I want to share one.

I want to share about my sweet friend. I’ll call her “Esther” for privacy purposes.

Esther and her husband have three young kids – the oldest just barely in elementary school. Last year they became respite care for DHS, that turned into foster care. Not that long ago Esther became a foster mom to two kids wrought with potential, but chained by the consequences of neglect. I watched my sweet friend love those kids. Serve those kids. She gave up coffee dates with friends. She was inconvenienced. She was exhausted. She was uncomfortable. She gave despite all it cost her. She loved regardless how much it hurt her. She wrestled with hard questions. She faced hard realities. And she loved. She watched the kids blossom and make strides. She watched them excel and grow. She got a glimpse into the beauty of those kids that had been tucked away under layers of stuff.

And then the day came that the kids returned home. This is where most people would walk away. Most would quickly pass judgement on the kids’ parents and complain about a broken system. Esther chose to love and to keep fighting for those kids. She chose to love their mom and teach her. She took that young mom under her wing. She taught her how to mother. How to shop. How to make healthy meals. How to make a safe home. Esther has spent countless hours on the phone and in doctors offices getting the kids all the help they need. And she has been teaching their mom all along the way.

Tonight Esther rallied her friends to give the family a clean slate. To clean their apartment. To decorate. To give life and light where things once felt hopeless.

And though there is always a risk that things may not go as Esther hopes. As I hope. As my friends hope. Esther used her voice and influence to fight for those kids. She has given past the point of hurting to help that family have all the tools they need to be able to stay together. She has poured herself out in hope that those kids will not enter the system again.

Tonight I stood in a circle with my friendsΒ as we waited for the family to return to their newly updated home. I listened to Esther pray for that family. She wept tears of love and mercy. I looked at Esther and my friends and thought maybe this whole idea of ‘orphan prevention’ isn’t such an impossible challenge….because there are everyday heroes, like Esther, that are painfully fighting for at risk kids and their families.

Esther bears the scars of a battle well fought. Tonight 4 kids will go to sleep with their parents down the hall instead of in the home a stranger because Esther chose to give up personal comforts to be an advocate for kids at risk. Esther – she’s a world changer.

 

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  • Lacey - Such an amazing blessing that she gave to that family. Showing them not only her love, but the love of Jesus Christ. She reflected His love directly onto them and there is no better way to teach the Gospel. πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing!

  • Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience - Tears.
    This. is. it.
    “I am blessed. I can bless. This is happiness.”
    *Thank you*
    A thousand thank yous.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - OH my. My heart is open wide for this family. What an amazing and perfect witness to us all.

    I am bawling tears and feeling my heart change. Amen.

  • Robyn - What an amazing story! An amazing woman with an amazing heart!
    If only I could be a little more like her.

  • Marie - Beautiful.
    Esther and this family willbe in my prayers. Thank you for sharing their story.

  • Darcy - Wow! What an amazing story! And aren’t you lucky to be able to call her your friend!!

  • Kristin - beautiful. i pray that family can make it – together. and may God bless your friend esther. what an inspiration! thank you.

  • Lori - Tears. Love Esther. Looking forward to hearing more on this topic and what Jen Hatmaker shared. Incredible the amount of selflessness that can pour out of someone…thank you for this story.

  • Cindy - Thank you so much for sharing this! I’d love to be more like her, too. God bless her for loving like Jesus, those who needed it so.

  • Leanne - I need to stop reading this at work….tears are flowing down my cheeks and people will know I am not reading Work Health and Safety practices if this continues!

    L xo

  • Charity G. - Thank you for this post, for this glimpse into the heart of another individual who cares and loves with all she is. It is inspiring and gives me something to strive towards. I’m not good at leaving my comfort zone but I also forget how worthwhile and important it can be for others that I do. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Kelly - If this isn’t being the hands & feet of Jesus, I don’t know what is! Incredible! Thank you for sharing this story and please tell your friend Esther thank you for loving that family like Jesus does!

  • Jack - A very inspiring story! We need more Esther’s in our social care system too.

  • Amy L - Oh, wow. Thank you so much for sharing. What a wonderful story of a lady who has loved like Jesus. I that I could be a little more like that. . .

  • Rebecca Alexis - WOW. That is so very very wonderful and amazing. love. this. story. a fable for us all. xo

  • Kimberly Dial - I love this & oh how it touched my heart. Esther is my kind of woman … such wisdom AND awesomeness! You’ve got to start somewhere & it looks like Esther’s off to a great one. Thank you for sharing this Ashley.

  • Lyn - I am so moved by this post. I work with kids who need more Esthers in the world. It is such a difficult job to fight for children. Fighting for your own, fighting for other. It is a daily struggle and certainly puts in perspective how hard children’s life can really be. Also how hard it is to help them. I applaud your friends and you for the work you do. Blessing and prayers to all.

  • Jill - Thanks for sharing!!

  • bonnie - inspiring and encouraging!

  • Karen - Thank you so much for this. I think we often think of the foster system as a broken system. Your friend has done an amazing job with following through and really showing the power of the foster care system.
    An inspiring story! Thanks.

  • Melissa - Tears. Of joy. Of sadness. Esther sounds like an amazing woman. What a blessing for that family to have her in their lives. Thank you so much for sharing Ashley Ann.

  • Sadie - What an AMAZING touching story! What a blessing to those precious kids, parents and Esther! Oh my! I loved this true story! Fostering is something that is definitely on my heart and when we are stable enough to accept kids in, we will! I will always remember this story!

  • Lori - LOVE this. Thanks for sharing, it’s uplifting and inspiring.

  • Leila - This is wonderful. Families helping families BE families. What the world is lacking. The only thing that will heal the world, by God’s grace in Christ — following God’s plan for how our children will be made whole: In a family.

  • jody - Love this. And you sparked an idea within me – thank you.

  • Lee Hatcher - It is a sad truth that in most cases of kids going into foster care it’s the mother who truly needs a foster mother. The kids need to be cared for but it’s their mother who desperately needs to be taught how to be a mother.
    Our society should have a better plan for reaching out to the mothers who don’t know how to be mothers and help THEM.

  • jules - God bless the Esthers, and Ashleys and Ruths of the world… for without individuals willing to give it all, those children would not have a chance at change, true Love and all that is possible! Thank you for sharing.

  • Stefani - Thank you for posting this girl! What you said is such common sense, why haven’t I ever thought of it that way before?! I want/need to invest in struggling families too. My mama always said, ‘if we’re not here (on earth) for eachother, then what are we here FOR?’ Please give Ester a big, giant ‘attagirl!’ Thank you again!!

  • Karen - I met you at craft weekend and love reading your blog. Today really spoke to me as we said goodbye to our first foster baby three weeks ago. We had her for ten months and it was painful but also so joyful knowing her parents are trying so hard. I love hearing Esther’s story as I struggle with the reality of the way to help our baby is to help her mom. I’m learning. Thanks for your words.

  • Misty - Thank you Lord, for shining your light through Esther, for giving her the strength to be spent.

  • Necole@seriouslysassymama - Your friend Esther sounds like a wonderful human being. I hope the parents of those children really see that.

  • valerie - Such a great post/story, Ashley!

    We volunteer with a program called “Safe Families for Children” whose mission is to help families in crisis before DCFS has to get involved. They started in Chicago, but have spread across the nation…I encourage anyone interested to check them out!

    http://www.safe-families.org

  • Vicki - Whew. What a beautiful story. What a woman. And I love that you renamed her “Esther.” Truly God prepared her for such a time as this.

  • Molly - wow. just wow. what an inspiration. praying for all of them.

  • Jenny - Beautiful. Loving as He loves us. What a blessing, encouragement and inspiration your friends story is.

  • amber - That is simply amazing. I have been looking into my heart this past week & dealing with some selfishness that has come up, & this is such an awesome picture of what we should all (myself most certainly included) strive to become. Jesus in flesh. What a tremendous thing to live out God’s calling well. While gaining a world of faith along the way. Thank you for sharing this. My mind will be swimming the rest of the day now…

  • Stacy - Tears of joy for wonderful people like “Esther”. We all can do so much more than we think we can. β€œUnless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
    ? Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
    “Esther” is making it better.

  • brandi - Wow! Just WOW. What a lady.

    Oddly enough, I had a young man mistakenly call my number on Friday by being one digit off from the “rehab” center down the street. He told me his story before I could even tell him he had the wrong number….”Hi, I’ve been in foster care from 1994-2000 and was in jail and now I need someone to help me find a job…can you help me?” Broke my heart knowing that all he wanted was HELP. I gave him the correct number and then hung up the phone, forever changed. Why didn’t I help him?

    Thank you for this.

  • Alicia Millis - love LOVE this post. “orphan prevention” is something I have thought about since I read an article in grade 7 about all the babies in romanian orphanages who have stopped crying because they know it doesn’t get them anything. it changed me as a young girl that article and I knew since that moment my “mothering” would be effected by it. I have 2 young girls now and a boy on the way in just 10 weeks, but he will be my last pregnancy (if I can control that πŸ™‚ ) we have thought a lot about adoption, but are going to start fostering when babe boy is around 1. maybe foster to adopt one day, but I feel fostering is where we are being lead. your friend esther sounds amazing, and the world needs more people like her. i hope to love like she does when the time to foster comes for us.

  • Martina - This is really inspiring to me as a foster parent. Thank you for sharing! I hope I can have an experience like this one day, were we can really get involved in the life of a birthparent in a positive way. I love the focus on “orphan prevention.” It’s a phrase I haven’t tied to foster care before. We always talk about “permanency” as the goal, whether that means back with the birthparents, other family or with a foster/adoptive family. We’re in it for orphan prevention – whether that means helping to restore the original family or giving the child a new one.

  • mandi@herbanhomestead - Oh this gripped my heart in the most real way. Thank you for sharing Esther’s story. When it comes to orphan prevention we have to remember that it is about each individual child. This is such a profound and beautiful picture of that.

  • melanie - Oh what an awesome story!! Thanks SO much for sharing. Ties into notes I took in church yesterday: “Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality!” Romans 12:13 (msg). What if we all found ways to be “Esthers?” !!

  • Riann - Just…lovely. Thank you.

  • Michelle W - Not all heroes wear capes. “Esther” is a hero in the eyes of many.

  • bopha - I love “Esther”, her heart encourages me daily!! I still can’t wrap my mind around all the wonderful things she has done for that family.

  • AnnMarie - Such a beautiful story! Thank-you for sharing! It’s so uplifting to hear there is so much good out in our scary crazy world!

  • amy cornwell - Amen. Praise God for “Esther” and others just like her. May we all learn from her example. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sara - I so wish parents who have children returned would be given the training and tools adoptive parents are encouraged to use and are often required to have before they can foster or adopt. They need to know how to deal with the trauma their kids have endured. They need support, respite care, budgeting training etc just like the loco parentis that covered for them while they were caught in a cycle of poverty. I agree supporting the birth parents so they can effectively parent their children would be Ideal but we do not live in an Ideal world.

  • Kayla - I am not only a regular reader of your blog, but also a social worker in Child Protective Services. Foster parents such as your friend Esther are such an incredibly important blessing. I don’t even have words to describe the potential that these kind of relationships with birth families have to change not only that nuclear family but also generations of familial brokenness. You are right that things may not go as Esther hopes or prays, or that these acts of generosity and blessing will change people. But that’s still our role as the people of God: to love, bless and pour ourselves out for others. Beautiful and inspiring post, thank you πŸ™‚

  • emily jones - Love this so much. Your blog has been so inspiring to me so many times. What a powerful witness you and your sweet friends are.

  • Tamra - Thank you so much for sharing this story! My husband and I have adopted 2 precious kids from foster care and one of the things (among many) that led us to adopt through the foster care system is the potential to mentor & love on the biological family. The bio parents haven’t been in the picture of our kids’ lives so that wasn’t part of our story this time but what a beautiful picture of the gospel your friend has lived out…loving not only the kiddos that came into her home but their family as well. The system is definitely far from perfect but what a difference we could make if more Christians were willing to take the risk and to fully enter into someone’s broken situation and love them with Christ’s love. Beautiful!

  • lauren - That is an AWESOME story. Thank you so much for sharing that.

  • Emily - such an amazing story – and woman. thank you for sharing.

  • Amanda Kay - Thank you for sharing this, Ashley. Your words carry light with them. A light the allows us all to see hope a little clearer.

    God Bless, Ester, she is a noble woman indeed!

  • rachael - amazing!!!

  • gale - Good for her!! And good for you for doing what you can – and choosing to spotlight someone like Esther who does what SHE can. We can all do SOMETHING to make the world a better place for children – thanks for the reminder!!

  • Donna - Why I hate Esther.

    My good girlfriend, who cares deeply for me, sent me a link to this article. She knows our family’s circumstance and what’s been going on in our lives for the last 10 months. You see, we have two foster children in the OKDHS system.

    One of the children we are fostering is three years old. He was two when he entered the system, neglected. His baby sister is also with us. She is like sunshine on a rainy day. Thank goodness, because with her brother, every day is a down-pour. I have four birth children, and I can honestly say, we are all VERY tired.

    Their mom has been working her plan. It sounds lovely. Last week, she had her first unsupervised visit. When I arrived at her place, she had no electricity. Do not think that this is a sob story. It is not. I am not trying to paint a sweet, emotionally captivating story. Her electricity had been turned off due to her failure to pay her bill. In spite of the lack of lighting, she assured me they would be fine. And truly, all was well when I returned. However, the 3 year old did not want to leave. This is good because he still loves his mama. We both cried all the way home.

    Most likely she will get them back. Yet, as you pointed out in the article, she needs someone to guide her. This is why, when I finished reading the article, my first thought was, “I hate Esther.” I can’t be her. I have picked up the natural mom from the worst parts of town to take her for drug-testing on multiple occasions. I have gone out of my way to take her to court when she didn’t have a ride. We shuttle the two kids twice a week to see her. But I can’t teach her responsibility. She knows the tricks to make me think she’s responsible. Certain words to say, Christianese she’s learned from church.

    But truth be told, I am only a model that she sees irregularly, who is “rich” and whose lifestyle is unattainable. After this experience, my outlook on people with her lifestyle has definitely changed. I don’t want to give her some kind of make-over, or make her more like me. I want the Holy Spirit to be inside of her. I want her to WANT to change to be more like Him. Now, that sounds very churchy, but who else can really change her. My family suffers because I take time to be with her.

    My real thoughts are that just today I prayed for God to help me not pack up the little boy and take him to back to the shelter. We are loving him today by letting him sleep one more night in our house. Tonight I sit mulling over the last two hours of him screaming because he didn’t want to go to bed. One more night, I think. He spends every night like that. And sometimes in the middle of the night, while still sleeping. Foster care is not pretty and there is no end to the story with these little ones until they are raised and grown and functioning well in society, caring for other individuals. I hate Esther because tonight, I want to be her.

  • Ryanne - Lovely, inspiring, humbling. Thank you.

  • Nan - I pray that Esther doesnt become disillusioned. Usually when kids are removed from a home Social Services makes the parent take parenting classes and TRIES to teach the parent the things that Esther also showed her. Every once in awhile a parent does respond to help, but too often they cant be bothered. I fostered 97 children and only a handful went home to loving caring parents. The only way I can imagine preventing children from being abandoned or as you write orphans (except orphans are kids whose parents have died, so they really arent orphaned)anyway preventing births will stop these kids from being abused and abandoned. We need to find a solution for these women who have many kids in foster care and yet still keep getting pregnant. I adopted 4 brothers. Their BM has given birth to 11 children that I know of and their BF has sired 8 that I know of. Of these 15 children only one is living with the parent. The rest have all been adopted by various people. My boys have 15 siblings that they will probably never meet.

  • Mirys - Amazing atitude! What a GREAT friend you have! An inspiration!!!

    Kisses and blessings. Mirys
    (www.diariodos3mosqueteiros.blogspot.com) from Brazil

  • Kara - Really inspiring. What a brilliant and selfless idea.

  • Emily - Amazing. She is Jesus shining through for sure. Unfortunately, our system is very flawed and despite a family’s great efforts sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way.

  • Erin - Absolutely beautiful. The Spirit has kept this on my mind and heart since I read it yesterday. I have had such a heart for adoption and fostering for years now, but have yet to be able to add to our family in this way. Esther’s example has now given me wonderful, godly inspiration. I’m beginning to research the possibility of a mentoring program in our town which would help parents get their lives back together, so they can put their family back together. Thank you for sharing this!!

  • Sarah - I really love this post. I’m realizing that there is no guarantee when we step outside of our comfort zone to help others, but that it is required of us to do so. Esther’s story also resonates with me because my own mom is adopted. She had wonderful adoptive parents and they were wonderful grandparents. Still though, at age 60 she has feelings of abandonment. She and I both realize she was given a “better” life through adoption but also believe the priority should always be orphan prevention when possible. On another note, I would love to adopt but since it may not be in my future I love to read stories of other families that have welcomed a child home!

  • Seamingly Sarah - Your friend embodies “Christ like” to me right now. Thank you for telling us that to truly love and be like the Christ who died for us is attainable to us. For me it’s like a message from God that goes directly along with what I’m reading right now, Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. Thank you for that.

  • Kathryn - This is beautiful. More and more I feel like I am being pulled in the direction of fostering and this is why. It can’t happen yet (I am nowhere near prepared financially, emotionally, etc. and would like to do this if I were married), but I feel like God is softening my heart to it.
    Tucking this one away…

  • Alina - This is a beautiful thing. I cant even begin to imagine what it was like to have her do this for those kids- that she loved on constantly- she is a strong woman!

  • j - I’m willing to bet, Esther is a mess and someone who knows what it’s like to be forgiven. I bet she has about a million resources and still screws up ALL THE TIME. I bet she looks at that mom who has nothing & no one, and wonders how she even makes it one day, knowing her pansy self couldn’t.

    I’m willing to bet there are many many days Esther wants to give up. Days she wonders if the sacrifice, (not the one she is making, but the one her kids have to make) is worth it. She probably prays to God for Him to show her “the plan”, to tell her that all this will not be for nothing. She probably asks God to tell her that this mom and family she is trying to help will be ok. To tell her that these kids will know they are special. That the mom will know she is loved. She asks God to tell her that one day the 4 year old will talk because he will finally discover he is loved and he matters. But He doesn’t. God doesn’t reassure her that this work will pay off. All he does is give her strength for one day (sometimes even one hour) to move forward. She knows she may lose it the very next day or very next moment. I bet she takes just that little bit of strength he gives and puts one foot in front of the other, just obeying and trusting God with the rest. (still screaming inside, what the heck are you doing, God?). I’m sure she knows the odds of this family surviving, much less thriving, are slim. But she also knows they are much slimmer without support, love or hope. And she keeps singing “nothing is impossible for you”. But most days it’s “Nothing is impossible for you???”

  • amy jupin - i read this, amazed and inspired.
    i read the comments, both the soft and the hard.
    this is tough.
    love is messy and even tougher than anyone could even imagine.
    yet i know that no matter what, love is worth it.
    please keep sharing your heart, ash, because you are making us all stand up and fight for love.

  • Heather - Sorry, I’m a little behind on blog posts, so I’m just reading this. Thank you “Esther”. You bless me. I’ve so often wished that I was in a position to do more to help my son’s birth mom. Unfortunately there are some different circumstances, but I pray for her, oh how I pray and hope for change. This really touches my heart; you are doing the work of the Father. Thank you.
    Blessings!
    Heather

  • Jen Hatmaker - Oh, Ashley, my sweet new friend. Melanie linked this over to me, and I am so moved. This, this is the stuff we were talking about. The messy, nitty gritty work required. This is incredibly challenging and motivating. Thank you for putting this story and vision in front of people. May it grow legs and run.

  • Holly - This is beautiful. I’m praying for you, Donna, and the rest of the foster moms out there that you can have an impact on the birth moms you come into contact with.

  • elizabeth H - speechless … beautifully speechless.
    my heart agonizes w. the painful reality of broken families.
    the children who suffer. the children who DO have potential, those BEAUTIFULLY, hurting children. May the Holy Spirit prompt every believer of the role they can have to care for the orphaned.
    xoxo

  • Ada - wow & how.
    How does a woman stand in that gap knowing the pattern & love despite it.
    Wow that your voice echoes and brings light to such love.

    Lord mercies to that family- mercies beyond measure & over flow them with your love, which has so obviously been flowing thru Esther….

    Happiness ahead. <——-LOTS!

  • Carrie - I have been a foster parent and know beyond a shadow of doubt that small efforts can change a family for generations. May God richly bless your friend for her efforts for His kingdom!

  • Bobbi Jo - Amazing and awesome.

  • Terrie G - This world needs more Esthers!
    What a beautiful story…thank you for sharing it.
    I feel challenged to be a blessing in ways that make me uncomfortable…
    So easy to ‘not give until it hurts’.
    Hugs to Esther and all of you for giving to this family!
    Praying that many families will be changed by this story…

  • Chantel Krips - Nicely carried out explanation. I couldn’t have carried out much better myself!

  • Helen - I love this so much.
    I’m a public school teacher, and there have been times that I’ve thought… no, the child doesn’t need to be removed from his home to put in foster care… there needs to be a foster care for his whole family… to teach them how to be a family.
    I love this.

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