How Sharing a Phone Number Became an Invitation to Family
WORDS // Jenna Kruse PHOTO // Jessie Johnston, Jessica Johnston Photography
Do you love going out on a limb to try new things?
Do you often come up with ideas that others haven’t thought of before?
Does it excite you to follow through on these ideas?
Do you tend to move forward with your plans with lightning-like speed?
If you said yes to three or more of these questions, you might be one of those crazy people who God created with an apostolic bent.
Maybe you even took the questionnaire on fivefoldsurvey.com and confirmed your inkling that: You. Are. In fact. A different breed of the human species. You don’t mind skipping out on your favorite TV show if it means you could be spending that time pioneering new ground. Apostles make the world go ‘round.
On the other hand, the potential downfall of an apostle (think: visionary, pioneer) is that because they move so rapidly, they can risk leaving people in the wake of their vision. The nature of an apostolically gifted person is fast-paced action, but they can sometimes move so quickly, they forget to slow down long enough to hear God’s guidance and direction. Even for someone who is gifted with one of the other four ministry categories, such as teacher or evangelist, the idol of accomplishment can get in the way of listening and following God’s specific call on your life at any given moment.
It is true that sometimes God calls us to move forward with unabashed abandon. Other times, though, He calls us to slow down and look around, to take notice of something or someone around us.
“I know there have been times throughout my life that God has called me to do just that: slow down, listen for His timing, notice. And if I’m honest, I haven’t always heeded that voice telling me to slow down or to change course because my own plans have become so deeply ingrained in my brain.”
I have at least one example from my life, however—perhaps proof that a stubborn heart can be changed—of a time when I listened and surrendered to God’s redirection. This is that story.
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Stay. That’s the word I got from God after receiving the publishing company acceptance letter—my first potential job in my field of study. The pay didn’t look all too shabby either, compared to my current gig at the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center.
Stay is an uncomfortable word for someone like me who is driven by to-do lists and accomplishments. I was a 23-year-old recent grad at the time who wanted to change the world, but who all too often let the world define me by my resume—by what was, or more acutely, what wasn’t yet on it.
Surprisingly, I obeyed, which meant more late evenings befriending teenagers. Together, we learned all the greatest 70’s rock songs thanks to countless hours playing Rockband on the Wii, labored over grueling algebra assignments, and dominated each other in pick-up dodgeball games. All the while, I attempted to instill values and worth in these young people’s lives, almost all of whom had experienced much more pain and hardship than I could confess in my 10 years their senior.
And then they walked in. Their group home “mom” introduced them to me as Nicole and Natalie Brown, twins who were about to turn 14. Their similar faces looked back at me, perhaps shy, perhaps stonewalled to this young, naïve woman who stood before them in her Boys and Girls Club polo, a complete stranger to them. Because to them, strangers became adoptive parents who became abusive nightmares for five years of their lives, or they became court-appointed social workers, learning every last detail about their heart-wrenching past, who then moved on to the next case or the next job, through no fault of their own.
I didn’t know all this then, but I spent the next year and a half getting to know Nicole and Natalie, who unbeknownst to any of us, would become my family—defined not by birthright or by court papers, but by action. And to think, I could have missed it all.
It made no sense. From our very first introduction, I found myself doubting. How could He possibly use me? More importantly, how could I possibly relate to what they had been through? But the truth is, despite my doubting, God had given me a lot to offer these girls: a listening ear and a cell phone number. That’s it. That’s all God needed to do His work. Not my accomplishments, not what was or wasn’t included in my own past, and not my skill set (because I was definitely lacking in some areas).
When I finally did end up quitting my job to have my first baby, I gave a small handful of the students my phone number. It wasn’t long before I received my first phone call from one of the twins, which quickly turned into weekly scheduled conversations with each of them. Nicole and Natalie were members of a step team at school, so I went to watch a performance.
It started with little gestures like that, but soon I was driving them to church and taking them to a parking lot following the service to teach them to drive.
Through the years, I tight-roped between mother figure and older sister, mentor and friend, not always finding the right balance. But they made me laugh. They gave me a greater purpose. And their faith and determination rattled me. They turned 18 at the beginning of their senior year of high school and were given the choice to continue living in a foster home or to go their own way.
So, a few days before Nicole and Natalie started their senior year of high school, we moved them into an apartment of their own. They made sure the bills got paid. Together, we worked on budgeting skills and learned the fine art of negotiating used car prices. They worked and finished school. During that time, they began to spend holidays with us and with my husband and I’s extended families.
I watched as they broke down every wall and climbed past every negative statistic that said who they should have turned out to be. Soon, we were planning a graduation party.
Somewhere in there, Nicole and Natalie had become like daughters to me and older sisters to my now three young kids. They would go off to a university as first-generation college students, and we did everything that life with college kids brings…lots of moving in and out of dorm rooms and apartments and opening our home to them in the transition between.
All the while, with God’s help, they moved themselves from surviving to thriving. They are contributors to so much good in this world.
So, while I really like action verbs—words like go, do, accomplish—all I had really given to Nicole and Natalie and to God through all of this was my availability, my slowing down, my staying put. I am still sometimes tempted to think those are passive kinds of words.
“But I am learning that obedience to God, whatever that looks like in the moment, is never passive: whether it is to go or to stay.”I never could have imagined the adventure God put me on in the staying.