My husband and I fostered children for the state of Alabama for fifteen years after struggling with infertility for more than a decade. Eventually, we were given the opportunity to adopt seven of the dozens of children that we fostered.
Many of our foster children and several of our adoptions were older-children placements, which means they weren’t infants or toddlers when we fostered or adopted them. We had no control over the first years of their lives. By the time they legally became ours, there were some deep-seated attitudes, beliefs and hurts. As the old saying goes, they arrived with plenty of emotional baggage.
In an attempt to encourage and comfort them, I could say all the right things with all the best intentions. I could say to them that they were beautiful, valuable and cherished. I could say to them that they were safe and would not be rejected or abandoned. I could say to them that they could trust us. But, they were naturally hesitant to believe me because they didn’t recognize my voice. In the beginning, I was just another stranger and to them. That meant danger.
The voices they were familiar with had been proven right through their life-experiences. They were the haunting voices that reminded them to trust no one, to always keep a safe distance, to manipulate or lie, to be afraid, to be cautious and to constantly stay on guard.
When you foster or adopt an older child, there is often a lot that needs undoing before a trusting relationship can be developed. Before they are even able to hear what you are trying to say, they must learn to recognize and trust your voice. There can be frustrating times, times when you wonder if they will ever truly hear you, believe you or trust you.
To tell you the truth, it would just be too much for me or any other person to face alone. I wouldn’t have attempted it without a strong support structure in place. And as a Christian, Jesus is the strong foundation that I choose to rely first and foremost upon.
You see, He understands fully what it means to accept into your family those who have been battered and bruised. He knows all about what it means to reach out to those who don’t yet easily recognize your voice, trust you, obey you or appreciate you. He understands all about the other voices that haunt and taunt. He can love those who haven’t found their courage to love Him back in like manner. He is the Good Shepherd, and He is an expert when it comes to shepherding broken hearts.
Chances are you are standing in one of these two places today, if not both. You may be working hard to gain the trust of another person. You may be trying hard to find the courage to trust others in your life.
Perhaps, like me, you are an apprentice shepherd, reaching out to the broken people in your life, your community and your world. Perhaps you are one of the broken-hearted and you’re struggling with the voices that have been intensely destructive and loud for so long, preventing you from hearing the voice of Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Perhaps the loudest and most destructive voice of all is that of your own.
No matter which case, take courage. Listen often, on purpose and intently to the voice of the Shepherd until His voice is raised above the din. Then choose to trust Him and run to Him, no longer afraid.
The best tool we have as we seek to become familiar with the voice of our Shepherd is the Word of God. In the Bible we can develop an ear for truth and wisdom. And that is exactly what His voice sounds like!
“They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (John 10:5 NLT).
Stephanie Rodda is a blogger, author, freelance writer, inspirational speaker and workshop presenter who lives in the Birmingham area with her XL family. She and her husband, Henry, adopted seven children, all of whom are young adults and some of whom are now beginning families of their own. Faith and family are her favorite subjects to share about.