Late one night in 2015 while working for a crisis response organization, I was assigned to an emergency home dispatch. As a Mobile Response team member, I was routinely assigned to investigate behavioral or mental health issues. Soon after my arrival, the two children I was checking on fell asleep, and the mother poured out her heart to me.
She spoke of her struggle with severe addiction issues, which had caused her to lose custody of her three older children. She triumphantly shared that she had recently gotten clean and successfully regained custody of her two youngest children. She spoke of anointing them with oil while praying that God would do something different for their lives. I smiled when her five-year-old daughter snuck in and out of the room. As a drove home, I knew the Lord sent me there to listen and to share His love with her. Little did I know that night would eventually transform my entire world.
My family was sound asleep by the time I returned. Our household was often busy with our five daughters – Kendall, Cadence, Cabree, Kensley, and Camry, who ranged in ages 3 to 12. My husband Marcus was a former science teacher, who now worked in youth ministry. We homeschooled our children and life was busy, yet full of love and laughs.
In May 2016 I received a new case. As I read through the file of the six-year-old, I saw that she had extreme behavior issues. New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) had custody and the goal was to stabilize her behavior so that she could remain with her great-aunt and uncle. However, after several months her conduct proved to be more than they could manage and she moved in with another aunt. That arrangement was also unsuccessful, and I was assigned to provide clinical justification for putting her in a group home or residential treatment facility as there appeared to be no placements that were suitable for her needs.
During my visits with her caregiver, the little girl was always there, doing something to get our attention. She would pull at my heart – I kept thinking, all she needed was structure. I’d worked within the foster care system long enough to know that a residential setting is rarely optimal for such a young child. I felt strongly that sending her to such a program would likely result in irreparable damage.
I decided to share my concerns with Marcus and proposed temporarily making space in our home for this little girl, as I knew we could provide the structure she needed to thrive, so she could be permanently placed with a family. He was supportive and despite our hectic schedules and busy family life, we proceeded with getting our home approved for an emergency placement. We had always considered doing foster care once our children were older, however, this girl had a desperate need and we had willing hearts.
As we completed the intake and her family history, a lightbulb went off – this was the little girl that kept sneaking out of the room when I was talking to her mother the previous year! I sensed that God had hand-picked her to be with us. Four days before Christmas Nevaeh came to our home. We were all excited to welcome her, and my daughters were so kind, unselfish, and understanding. Unfortunately, there was no reciprocation from Navaeh.
She lived up to ALL the hype in her file: she didn’t sleep, had the stamina to scream for hours, and would become aggressive and destructive when she got angry. She would rip the door off and later not know how it happened. A defining moment was when she kicked a hole in the wall during a tantrum. After Marcus patched it, Navaeh promptly proceeded to kick the same hole back in the wall. She didn’t sleep much and would be up for hours causing her to be unbalanced during the day due to the lack of sleep. She just screamed and screamed and screamed. And then stopped on a whim.
Given my background and experience and my husband’s passion for youth, we had been so sure this was the perfect fit for getting Navaeh on the right track. We quickly learned that although we had collectively worked with hundreds of children, we had not actually lived with them. We would find ourselves helplessly looking at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
I would be exhausted and tired, after a long shift at work, then having to cook dinner, and still care for my other daughters. The stress brought out the ugly in me. There were times I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. I would reflect on my thoughts and behavior after an incident and feel terrible. Even though Marcus and I prayed and prayed, nothing seemed to change.
With consistent discipline and structure, we started to see more compliance and self-control, however realized that discipline does not bring about heart change. I would communicate daily with teachers who reported Navaeh’s mean and disrespectful behavior. DCPP was pressing us concerning our desire to adopt Navaeh. We weren’t ready to commit as there were still so many issues to work through. There were no consequences that seemed to affect her, and we fervently began to pray that if the Lord wanted us to keep her, He would begin to soften her heart and show us our role in helping that happen.
As the Lord is so faithful to do, He answered by prompting me to begin writing her a note to take and read on the bus each day. I would identify something positive from the previous day, no matter how small, that would communicate her worth and value along with a scripture. The notes seemed to penetrate her stony heart yet created a new problem. She started demanding the note and would throw a tantrum if I didn’t have it ready. Many days the bus would be waiting while I scrambled to write the note. At the end of that school year, we found all the notes in her backpack. We learned she would re-read all of them, on the way to and from school.
God then revealed that if I wanted Him to change her then she needed to hear more from His Word and less of my words. So, we started daily scripture memory with all the girls. We stood on Psalms 119:11 “I have hidden thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” We hoped that scripture memory would change us collectively. We started with Jeremiah 29:11:
We literally said this every night and then began to add on other verses.
Slowly but surely, we began to see the Holy Spirit at work in all our hearts, especially Navaeh’s. She would apologize without being prompted and feel guilty when she was wrong. We saw her desire to change. She began relating to us differently and engaged with us, instead of against us. Even though there were still many tough days, it was the beginning of the change we had been praying to see. I thank God for covering my girls during this time as we’ve seen them develop so much character.
It soon became apparent that there were no family members to care for her, and we were feeling more comfortable with our family dynamic, and the transformation our family had been through. Navaeh had taken on many characteristics from our other daughters, and I couldn’t picture my family without her. When her dad contested the adoption, I realized more than ever that I wanted Navaeh to be a permanent member of our family. We proudly adopted her in May of 2019, three years after she first came to live with us.
As parents we regularly fail; despite that, God can still come in and “work all things together for good…” (Romans 8:28). In the same way that He has worked in Nevaeh’s heart, to the point of her being unrecognizable from when she first arrived at our house. He is continuing to change all of us – me, Marcus, the girls, and even our surprise baby who joined us in 2018, a son named Marcus, Jr.
I realized that we will never be enough for our children. Despite our best efforts, only Jesus changes hearts and will shape them into who He wants them to be. We simply must invite Him into our families for that transformation to take place.
PRAYER FOR MOMS:
Lord Jesus, help us to recognize that we will never be ENOUGH, this is why you died and this is why you say “…my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) as we come to you, in our weakness you pick up our burden and say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” You don’t ask us to do anything that you will not empower us to do through you. Don’t let us miss what you have for us because we, in our own strength, can’t see how we can possibly succeed.
In Jesus Name, Amen
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