DESTIN, FL – I grew up with parents who spent their lives serving the community. We housed athletes who my father had coached plus various youth in the community. My mother fed everyone in the neighborhood. We drove people to church and Sunday school.
Shane, my would be husband, started attending the church I was at when we were in high school, and his family had another high school student living with them. I’m pretty sure his mother has fed half of Florida. So, we both experienced very giving environments early on. Our parents were very hospitable people. I had always wanted to pursue some sort of serving career working with underprivileged youth or children. So, it made sense when I ended up in the field of criminal justice. I started working for Department of Juvenile Justice at 21 years old.
I thought I was doing great work running transition therapy groups. I was helping youth prepare to transition back into their homes and communities. About a year into working there, some girls came back. That really surprised me because I had thought, “Oh, these girls are going to be successful; they have the skills and they know what they need to know.” I dug a little deeper and quickly learned we were sending them out on their own. They had no support system. Most of the crimes they committed were in conjunction with their parents or older siblings. Saddled with this epiphany I took the opportunity to change career paths. I asked myself, what if I worked with the entire family?
Two years into my career with Department of Juvenile Justice, I transitioned over and started working for the child welfare system. I was a case manager then a supervisor. I worked in adoptions for a while as a training manager before becoming a program manager for a case management organization. It’s an emotionally intense field, but I had interesting experiences as a case manager and as a program manager.
Shane and I had been married four or five years when a couple in our church approached us about a teenager in need of housing and some welfare services. We had no children at the time and plenty of space in our home. So, we agreed to meet to see how we could help. When we met for dinner, it was very clear this young man should move in with us and become a part of our family. He had aged out of the foster care system and was supposed to live with former foster parents, but they were moving. He was going to be homeless. So, Shane and I had a quick discussion. We decided it’s time to say, “Yes!” We have a home. So, we need to open it.
We were both 26 years old, and he was 18 when he moved into our home. Corey became our first child. He’s the same age as my youngest sister. So, it became a very interesting family dynamic. We affectionately call him our man child. We had to set some non-negotiables—house rules. You have to have those boundaries. I think that’s a protection around them. Someone cares enough about me to keep me in boundaries. They may not always verbalize that, but I see with my own children “someone cares enough about me to keep me safe.”
Then, we were just really flexible from there. Most of our parenting came after we built a strong relationship. He didn’t know us; we didn’t know him. We were strangers in a long line of strangers he had lived with; so, it took awhile for him to realize we cared about him. We cared about his future. We had to do a lot of work to prove we were committed to him and were invested in his character growth and long-term outcome.
If God has called you to be a foster parent or to adopt, then He will provide a way. God will provide the support, the babysitter and the finances to make whatever changes you need to make for your home. People in your church will encourage you. It’s not about trying to find the right time; it’s about just doing it and letting God take care of the details. Don’t simply say no. Pray and follow God’s leading. Experience the highest form of hospitality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colleen Riddle is the director of Foster Care Ministries for the Florida Baptist Homes for Children. Her and her husband, Shane, have three children. God built their family in an unusual and unexpected way.