Joanne Sharp

“Jesus had power over the storm because He didn’t let the storm inside of Him.” Joyce Meyer
It has been 1,105 days since we first got, the call. Baby Girl with no home to go home to. In the NICU. Micro-preemie. Born at twenty-five weeks, weighing one and a half pounds at birth. On a breathing machine and caffeine. Likely to go to adoption. That’s all the information we had. My heart said YES before I even had a chance to call my husband. As we drove to the hospital, I remember the reality starting to hit me. Panic set in. Wait a minute! I didn’t know how to work a breathing machine. What kind of issues would this child have? How would our three other children get the attention they needed? What would she look like? Could I do this? I also remember the immediate peace I felt with each question. It was like waves of emotions, followed by calm. It was like God just kept whispering in my ear, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. You got this. We got this. With each question, I’d pray… then the peace would come. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace.
It had taken us nine months to get approved as foster parents and about nine seconds for me to fall in love with this little bitty. The second I saw her face, my heart ached. It was like my heart jumped out of my chest. It was her. It was the vision I had been given as a little girl. She was tinier than my vision but just as beautiful. I always knew I’d have a lot of kids. I used to say, “I want a shoe full,” when people asked. I also knew I’d have a daughter. So, having three boys was confusing to me. I felt blessed but always left with the feeling that our family wasn’t complete. Then seeing her, even amidst the anxiety and unknown, I felt peace. There she was this little baby doll in what appeared to be a huge car seat with cords hanging out from her jammies. The nurse asked if we’d like to hold her and I snapped right back into reality. I remember hearing a fellow foster moms’ words in my head,” Ask the nurse as many questions as you can.” So, I began asking questions. I completely forgot what I was supposed to ask so I just asked anyway. I found out as much information as I could. The nurse had been told that I was a nurse, wrong. So, she then trained us on the machine and we learned all about baby girl’s history. This was a gift. This part I will leave out as I truly believe it is her story to tell, if and when she wants to. Then they let us take her home. Just like that. Well, nine months of paperwork and training then, just like that. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace.

​The ride home was surreal. We hadn’t told our boys we were picking her up because we didn’t know what would happen when we got there. They knew we were in the process of fostering and had been praying with us for months, but this moment would be a surprise nonetheless. Our uncle and aunt were home with them and I’ll never forget the looks on their faces. Shock, joy, confusion. One of my boys said,” She’s so tiny.” The other said,” Woah, she’s so dark.” Lastly, “Does she get to stay?” And so, it began. Foster care. This was Friday. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace.
We had a long, first weekend. It was full of visits from family and friends along with a lot of the terrifying moments where she would stop breathing… often. The breathing machine would sound off like a fire alarm at all hours of the night. Then, Monday morning came. My husband went back to work and all the kids were home for a summer day. I remember thinking, this might be a long summer. First thing that morning, I got the call. She was scheduled for her first visit with her birth mom and it would be today. Wait, what? No heads up? Already? Oh, right…. I’m sure her mom misses her. Okay. Then, the driver shows up to pick her up. The first impression, I judged him. My bad. He was young, like very young. He didn’t look like someone who had cared for babies before. Again, what did I know? Judging. Then, I remember asking him what he would do if she stopped breathing while he was driving the forty-five-minute drive. He said had no idea she was on a breathing machine. No training. No awareness. I said straight up,” Nope, I will be driving her, thank you.” And that began the advocacy side of foster care. As a foster parent in some circumstances, you can truly be this baby’s one person. You are the one who knows all of the details. You are their advocate. You are their eye in the storm of their parents’ lives. This was a new experience. Advocating for my children comes easy and natural to me, but advocating when I don’t have full control or the ability to make decisions on my own…. a new and much more difficult feeling. Not a good one. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace. 
Fast forward a few months. Visits and several therapies each week as well as a NICU checkup each month. A case worker who made it clear she did not approve of me taking care of this little one, strictly because of the color of my skin. Then, the caseworker changes and people in and out of my home. New normal. We had a new flow. We had new people. God brought in amazing caseworkers who had her best interest in mind. I got to see the tough and honorable of these underpaid workers. I also got a new set of skills as well. I learned how to speak up and be firm quick and decisively. I learned that I could do hard things. Like really hard things. I met birth mom and we saw each other each weekly. Co-parenting? Kind of. This was a very tough season. I really felt like I was riding a wave. I would have huge highs and joys and then immediate plummets and feelings of worry. Each time, I would quiet my heart. Pray. Talk to my people. Share what I was going through. Let it out. I didn’t want that storm inside of me. I didn’t want my family to be swollen by the crashing waves of foster care. This season was rough. I thought daily about what it would be like to go from the extreme of caring for her to losing her. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace.  
Then, the holidays and her first birthday. Every decision I made; I look at it with the lens that this may be our last one with her. The only one with her. How do we make it memorable for all of us? I chose gifts that I thought would work in both circumstances. Gifts that would reflect our love. I sang bedtime songs repeatedly with the hopes of the words seeping into her soul. Jesus loves you. You are my sunshine. You are sweet, smart, strong and beautiful. God has a big plan for your life. Over and over again. Tears, upon tears. Joys upon joys. Some days worry upon worry. Again, and again, I would choose to pray and fight through the storm of the unknown. It was a daily, moment to moment choice. This became a practice that was life-giving to me. I had always prayed. I had always attempted to have quiet time with God. I had always had people to share my life with. However, this season these things were needed for survival. Over and over again, God would provide this verse for me. 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.” These words gave me life and the strength to keep going, not knowing what was to come. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace.
365 days. One year of love. One year of bonding. A decision from court was promised. That decision went unanswered. A six-month delay given instead. She calls me mommy. Okay. We keep going. Deep breaths. We keep loving like she is staying. We keep praying. We keep feeling it. All of it. We keep keeping on. We stay in the eye of the storm and fight back the waves. We move with the Lords leading and refuse to make our own path. We fight. We stay. Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace. To be continued… Storm. Deep breaths. Prayer. Peace. 
​Today I encourage you to stay in the eye of the storm. Find a place of hope. Find peace. For me, it was my daily faith walk with God. What is it for you? Are you in a storm? How are you getting through? Do you know someone in a storm? How’s she doing? Check-in on her today. Encourage her in the storm.