Lately I’ve been thinking about adoption.
Here is my dream. It’s a big house with lights in the windows. The front door is unlocked and people go in and out with a confident sense of welcome: children, teens, adults, older folks, people of lots of different skin colors and backgrounds and accents. There’s a warm kitchen in this house where the tea kettle is constantly bubbling and the fridge door opens and shuts. There’s conversation, games, laughter and tears, and rooms, too, for companionable silence.
Here is my reality. It’s an 800-square foot city apartment with my husband Andrew and our rescue dog Lizzy. Our life is calm, ordered, and reasonably tidy. We don’t have children. Our families are in far away Arizona and England. And while we love dinner or overnight guests, nobody really just drops by. We go to work, we come home, we try to enjoy life as a 30-something couple without kids while we pursue ministry and career.
But a few weeks ago we rearranged our apartment, shifting furniture until we’d turned our study into a nursery, complete with crib and changing table. No, I’m not pregnant, despite five years of hoping. Instead, we are awaiting a foster placement. We expect a young child from the Illinois social system to be placed with us sometime this year, and we expect the child to stay. We hope to adopt this child within a few years, and then maybe an older child or teen after that, or a sibling group, or the newborn brother or sister of our first child. Or maybe God will surprise us with a biological child, too. Who knows? All I know is that we have said yes to growing our family in this way. And I know that, someday, my dream of a house filled with life and love will come true.
That dream isn’t just about the Regester family, though. It’s an open-ended family I imagine. While we do want to have our own children, we also want a more flexible family, one that encompasses the wider community, from church, neighbors, friends and anyone, really, who’s lonely and looking for a place to belong, if only for a little while.
I want to offer this because it has been offered to me. Ever since God adopted me into his family (something He decided to do a long time ago, because it gives Him great pleasure, so Ephesians 1:5 tells me), I have been welcomed into families of Jesus-followers all around the world. And one of the most meaningful families that God has surprised me with in recent years is Lead222.
In 2007 God pulled me out of my journalism career and over to a church in Nottingham, England, where He called me into full-time children’s ministry. And then He surprised me with an English husband, and then He brought us to Chicago where I took on the newly created, full-time role of Middle School Pastor at the Evanston Vineyard church. Andrew and I landed in America on August 1, 2012, our second wedding anniversary, and were instantly plunged into the joys and challenges of this new life.
Almost immediately I connected with Lead222, when my desire to put on a summer camp for my students coincided with Lead’s first year of offering camp. Lead was an invaluable professional resource that first year, especially, as I started to figure out this whole youth pastor thing. My first coach Candace challenged me professionally, loved me personally and helped me navigate the major challenges of a ministry life that had suddenly been upended with career change, an international move, visa issues, financial challenges and the increasing grief of long-term infertility in the midst of providing family ministry.
I very quickly learned that Lead was a place to be real. At our first Solwatch getaway, Andrew and I discovered that, though we could laugh and joke and make friends, we could also dispense with the small talk and go straight to the real issues. The term “authentic community” gets bandied about a lot these days, but Lead is one of the only places I have ever known where I can walk over the threshold and be among people who simply love me, for who I am.
I discovered that when I step into that Lead home I get to leave my youth pastor mantle in the mud room. Ministry cares and worries, the subtle pressure to perform well and maintain a certain image, that all gets dropped in the corner like a cumbersome winter coat. As my good friend Brooks told me when I started with Lead, “The best part is being with people who ‘get’ our life. We don’t have to explain anything.” It’s hard to describe just how freeing that experience is but, trust me, I leave a Lead gathering refreshed, envisioned and ready to get back to doing that kingdom work.
The first time I attended a Lead women’s event (a lunch for pastors’ wives and female ministry leaders), I didn’t do so well at leaving my stuff in the entry. You see, being in a room full of strange women who are almost all moms isn’t always easy for me. My insecurities born of infertility trail along like a forgotten scarf, fears of how they will see me, whether they will judge me, my fear of how to nonchalantly answer the “How many children do you have?” question. But on that same day another woman befriended me and told me the story of her painful journey to motherhood, and I felt healing start to flow. I was seen, I was loved and I wasn’t judged, and bit by bit I loosed myself from my protective layers. Over time I have shared more and more of my story, and I simply find greater love, compassion and encouragement.
Two years ago at Coaches Corner we were physically surrounded by friends old and new who prayed fervently for us and the future we have as parents. That future isn’t here yet, but now whenever I have news to share or a sensitive prayer request, the first thing I do is jump on the Lead222 Women & Spouses Facebook page and post it. Although I only see many of the women who respond once a year, I am warmed by the love pouring out from them, and I feel myself back in that Lead home once more.
Adoption is a beautiful picture of how God welcomes us into His family. Yet just as every family has its struggles, a family created through adoption faces special challenges, for every family member brings his or her own past. But it’s a place where members work together and under God to reflect the healing, love, redemption, and ultimate acceptance of Jesus Christ.
We Lead members are not cookie cutter. We have some differences in theology, ministry practice, lifestyle and calling. Yet we all love the same God and His Word. And we love one another. In Lead we also sometimes hurt one another, as does any community. But I discovered right away that it’s OK to share what’s hurt us, that as we forgive and learn and grow together, trust and authenticity only increase.
I hope that sometime this year I’ll attend a Lead gathering with a young foster child in tow. I hope that in years to come, we will invite Lead members who are in town for a few nights to join us in our home, just as we’ve been invited into so many homes ourselves. And I hope that all of us in Lead keep that front door unlocked, ready to swing open wide as we invite in those youth workers longing for a place to belong.
Stephanie Fosnight Regester was an award-winning features journalist in Chicago when God called her into church leadership at age 28. She trained at Trent Vineyard in Nottingham, England for 5 years before returning to Chicago in 2012 to become the full-time Middle School Pastor at the Vineyard Christian Church of Evanston. Stephanie and her English husband Andrew (known affectionately as “the ultimate souvenir”) love playing games, going on adventures in the city and the wilderness, and doing ministry together. Their lively rescue pup Lizzy is working on her autobiography, “Dogs Who Love Too Much”.