Two Lives Changed
About the Guest
Each year, thousands of young men and women age out of the foster care system, and a very large number of them are left hopeless and at risk. Find out how one church embraced the challenge and changed the lives of two young women forever.
Each year, thousands of young men and women age out of the foster care system.
Two Lives Changed
Bob: Chay Gathers was a young girl in the foster care system who was brought into a foster family and soon learned that she hadn’t just been brought into a family. She had become a part of a whole church. Later, when Chay was grown and she was getting married, the whole church participated.
Chay: When it came to giving me away, it was kind of awkward. We didn’t know what to do. Being a foster kid, there was really no one to give me away. Sheri was talking to some of the other church ladies about it. They were like, “Well, I think when the pastor asks, we’re all going to stand up and say, ‘We do!’” [Laughter] So, it kind of stuck. When the pastor said, “Who comes to give this woman away?” the entire church, and other people who had had a hand in my life—they said, “We do!” [Applause]
Bob: This is a very special live edition of FamilyLife Today on Monday,
September 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We have two very compelling stories about foster care to share with you today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, most of the time when we hear something in the news about the foster care system, what you’re going to hear next is not good. Whatever kind of shows up in the newspaper or on TV related to foster care—it is usually something going wrong.
Dennis: I’ll tell you, Bob, it’s really fascinating. Men who age out of the foster care system and aren’t adopted—in their mid-20s, 80 percent are incarcerated. Compared to the general population, I think, in that same age group, it’s in the teens—like 17 percent. The greatest predictor of homelessness is to age-out of the foster care system without a family.
It’s really a great opportunity, I think, for the Church. This really touches my heart because I’m really proud of our oldest daughter Ashley and her husband, Michael, who is an OB doctor. They are foster care parents—currently to two, but they had two more before that. They’re caring for seven children right now— one little girl who is four years old and a little boy who is six months. They’ve cared for him almost since the time he was born. We’ve got a heart in our family—they were part of our family reunion last summer. We’re really excited about them stepping up and stepping out to touch foster care children.
We’ve got a pair of great stories for our audience here at the Summit.
Bob: Oh yes! We forgot to mention that we’ve got a studio audience here. [Applause]
Dennis: This interview is taking place live at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. We’re excited. There are a couple thousand people here and another thousand people on a simulcast. We have a couple of guests, Chay Gathers and Mary Lee, who join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast.
Mary: Thank you!
Chay: Thanks for having us. [Applause]
Bob: Yes, welcome them! Come on. [Applause] Yes!
Dennis: Chay is recently married. She lives in Nashville and works for the FBI.
Dennis: So that I don’t get into trouble— [Laughter] —what do you do for the FBI?
Chay: I’m an analyst.
Bob: You told us, “When trouble comes,”—what do you do?
Chay: I hide! [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you because—could you analyze Bob?
Chay: No, that’s beyond my expertise! [Laughter] I’m going to stay out of it.
Dennis: It’s been beyond mine for almost 20 years, too. [Laughter]
Mary is recently engaged and lives in Memphis; right?
Mary: I do!
Dennis: She is an attorney and the Business Development Specialist for Youth Villages. That’s a non-profit that works with high-risk children and their families. You’ve been doing that for a number of years. We’re excited about hearing both of your stories.
We’re going to start with you, Chay. You entered the foster care system the summer of your senior year in high school, but your difficulties at home started long before that. Share with us what was taking place in your original family.
Chay: They did. Basically, what was happening is my dad became an alcoholic. He became very abusive because of that. I would get kicked out in the middle of the night—2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. What I learned to do was find friends who had parents who worked a lot—workaholic parents who would barely notice I was there. You know, I would stay a week here, a week there. I just kind of had this rotation.
Finally, one of my friends’ parents took a week off. She was like, “Chay, you’ve been here for a week. What’s going on?” I finally told her. This was the first time that someone had confronted me about it. Before, they would ask, “Is everything okay?” I would say, “Yup! Everything’s fine.” She kind of drilled in there and figured out what was going on. She contacted the Department of Children’s Services. They sent a letter to my parents’ house saying exactly when they were going to be there.
So, my parents were sober. The house was clean. Everything was totally different than what it normally was like. My dad convinced the Department of Children’s Services that I was an unruly, uncontrollable kid who didn’t want to live at home. The state forced me to go back home, and they told me that I couldn’t stay with friends anymore.
Finally, my case manager and I became good friends. She gave me her cell phone number. She realized I really wasn’t an unruly, uncontrollable child. One night at 2:00 a.m., when I was kicked out, I called her and I said, “Come see what it’s really like.” She came over, and then she left. The next day, I packed a bag; and I never went back.
Bob: How did you process what was going on in your life, as a teenager? I mean, you knew that this was not how kids are supposed to be living; right?
Chay: I did. Obviously, I grew up in the Church. I want to make the point that foster kids—a lot of them—are not in the Church. That’s why they end up being a statistic. I didn’t become a statistic because I was in the Church. The Church took care of me. I knew it wasn’t normal, but what else was I going to do?
Chay: I had no idea how to deal with my situation. So, I dealt with it the best way I could.
Bob: When you say the Church took care of you, explain what you mean.
Chay: Well, before I came into foster care, obviously, my parents were poor and I was poor. You know, I would show up at church for VBS—Vacation Bible School—which I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with. I had no idea that it cost money or that you needed to bring lunch or anything like that. The children’s minister of the church would just hand me a sack every day with food in it. I had no idea that it was just for me and she wasn’t doing it for the other kids—things that I had no idea.
I was pretty much taking care of myself for a long time. The church just filled in where they saw because I never asked. No foster kid—no kid—is ever going to ask for your help. You just have to see it and do it.
Dennis: And that’s what your church did?
Dennis: They continued to insert themselves so when you entered the foster care system, your church kind of even stepped ahead of the entire government; didn’t they?
Chay: They did. Since I was so old when I came into foster care, the system was basically going to put me in a group home. You know, when you come into foster care, they do a planned meeting for you. They decide what they’re going to do for you, essentially.
The church just decided that what they were going to do was not good enough. They decided they were going to have their own care plan meeting. They had the meeting. They decided, “You know what? Somebody from the church needs to have Chay live with them.” My 7th-grade Sunday school teacher stepped up. Her name is Sheri, and she’s great. We weren’t close. We weren’t best friends. She would take me out to eat for my birthday every year and pay for me to go to camp. That’s pretty much it. So, it was a surprise when she stepped up.
Dennis: Yes, just continuing to step into your life and care for you.
Dennis: I heard this story of what your church did as you celebrated your marriage.
Chay: Yes. Obviously, being a foster kid, there was really no one to give me away. I have Sheri, obviously, and her family is like my family. Her dad was going to walk me down the aisle; but when it came to giving me away, it was kind of awkward. We didn’t know what to do. Sheri was talking to some of the other church ladies about it. They were like, “Well, I think when the pastor asks, we’re all going to stand up and say, ‘We do!’” [Laughter] So, it kind of stuck. When the pastor said, “Who comes to give this woman away?” the entire church, and other people who had had a hand in my life—they said, “We do!” [Applause]
Bob: I think it’s important here to say—we’re not talking about—we keep talking about what the church did. The church didn’t have a program. This was just people! Somewhere in the DNA of this church was a heart to say, “You know what? These kids are our kids.” How do you think that happened? Do you know?
Chay: I think they are people who live their faith. I think, if God is calling you to take care of people and if God is calling you to be a Christian, that’s part of your faith—to take people in and kind of help them. I feel like—obviously, I was a Christian already—but through them—they were His hands and feet—through them, I know that God loves me because they showed it to me
A lot of foster kids have attachment issues and a lot of different issues that I don’t have because my church was there. They showed me His love through their actions. Foster kids have people telling them things all of the time, but it’s when Christians step in and actually do what they say they’re going to do.
Mary, you entered the foster care system late, as well. Share a little about your story—of how you ended up there.
Mary: Yes. I came into foster care around the age of 12, due to abuse and neglect. It was very challenging. I remember coming into care and the worker being like, “Well, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to find a foster home for you. Usually, 12/13—people don’t really want to take children in. They usually get sent to group homes.”
Thankfully, I did get placed with a foster family. They were Christians, and they took me to church. The church that I attended was very supportive. There were a lot of people who were very accepting and welcoming of me. I think, for me, one of the hardest things was the whole label of being a foster child and not really feeling like I belonged anywhere. It was nice just to have that acceptance and that love from them.
Dennis: The teen years were easy for you?
Mary: No! [Laughter] I think they are challenging for everyone; but especially, for a foster child because you have so many emotions. For me, I felt a lot of guilt. I felt like, “If I had been better, then my birth family would have wanted me.” I felt ashamed that I was a foster child. I felt disconnected—like I really didn’t belong anywhere. At times, I think I felt unloved and just abandoned. It was very challenging.
Bob: The idea that, at this point in your life, you are saying, “Good bye,” to one family and trying to figure out who you are and where you belong. I mean, adolescence is hard enough!
Bob: You throw that on top of it. Did you act out in the midst of that?
Mary: I think I internalized a lot of those emotions and took them out on myself rather than other people. School was always a safe haven for me. I have always loved studying and stuff. So, that was somewhat of an outlet. Most of it was internalized. There was some depression, and some anger, and some things that I needed to work through.
Dennis: Your foster care family took you to church; right.
Mary: They did; yes.
Dennis: That began to meet some needs; but at a point, you felt like you needed more. You risked something that was really huge in your life; wasn’t it?
Mary: Yes. I always had that sense of yearning for a family. When I mean a family—not just a house and parents to tell me what to do—but that sense of love and true sense of belonging somewhere—that unconditional love that comes with a real family. So, when I was 16, I went to court, which we have to do every six months or year for a judicial review. The judge actually stopped to say, “Mary, what do you want for your life?” I said, “I want a family.”
He just kind of looked at me. He was like, “So, you want to be adopted?” I said, “Yes! I want a forever family.” He said, “Let’s TPR,” which is a “termination of parental rights”. This time, I was 16. That’s basically unheard of—if you’re over 12, you’re considered unadoptable. So, at 16, I went up for adoption. Surprisingly, people were very negative. They were like, “Why are you doing this? You’re a teenager. No one’s going to want you. You’re just putting yourself out there for a greater chance of rejection.”
I was heartbroken. I had waited all of this time to have a family and there was just this negativity around it. Thankfully, God found a family for me. I remember coming home from school, and my adoption worker was sitting in the living room. I had created a life book, which is kind of like a scrapbook. It had baby pictures, school report cards, awards, and different kinds of things.
I had allowed the adoption worker to share that to prospective families who were considering adopting me. She said, “Well, your family was so impressed by your book that they actually created a family book for you. If you’ll open the front page, you’ll see the family that wishes to adopt you.” [Applause] I opened to the first page, and it was actually my DCS case manager and his family. [Applause]
It was truly a blessing because I felt like they already knew me. They knew the good, the bad. They’d read every single case record—all of those bad things and good things—and they still wanted me. They picked me. From the moment I walked in the front door, I felt like I was home. I was their daughter. [Applause]
Dennis: Okay, I’m going to give you both this assignment. I want you both to speak to the Church—and when I say “the Church,” I’m not talking about a building. I’m talking about the people. Give the Church—individual people—your best advice when it comes to the foster care crisis that we have in America—over 400,000 children in foster care, over 115,000 who could be adopted. Give the Church your best advice—your best shot.
Mary: I would say, “Just follow wherever God is leading you,” —if He’s leading you to be a foster parent or to adopt a child—a young child or an older child—even someone who’s a young adult. We’re never too old to need a family and want a family.
Chay: It’s the trend, now, to be a foster parent, which is great. We have people who come into our church. When that kid comes into our church, the whole church gathers around that family and immediately says, “You know, what do you need from us?” We have domestic adoptions. We have international adoptions. The church just comes together and tries to fill that need.
Dennis: We’re going to give you a unique assignment here, right now. I’m going to ask both of you to pretend—and we do this occasionally on FamilyLife Today. I love it when adult children honor their parents. It’s not only biblical; it’s right. It’s just right. What I would like you to imagine in your mind is if I seated your foster mom, Sheri, across the table from you, Chay—and your parents, your mom and dad, across from you, [Mary], who adopted you and gave you a family at the age of 16. I would like you to look them in the eye and just express what you’d like to say to them on what they’ve meant to you.
Bob: You know, I think—and I don’t think this has ever happened before—I think, instead of them pretending—I think we may have the opportunity— [Applause] Come sit over here. Come take our chairs. Here, you sit right here.
Dennis: Well, we have here Sheri, who is the foster mom of Chay, and Scott, who is the father of Mary. Mary, I’m going to give you the assignment—
Bob: Just pretend like the rest of us aren’t here. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, just look your dad in the eye and tell him what he means to you.
Mary: Well, I hope that I’ve been able to show you many times how much you, mom, and Beth, and our entire family mean to me. I think that I am the person I am today because of your love and your support—not only as my dad—but even before you were my dad. Just to see how much of an impact you’ve had—not only on my life, but the lives of others—is just truly been a blessing.
Bob: That’s great! [Applause]
Bob: Alright, are you ready for the same thing here?
Chay: [Tearful] No. [Laughter] It’s harder than it looks!
You know, that when you took me in, most of the time I didn’t understand—a lot of things; but as I’ve gotten older, I know that it’s because of you that I am who I am. I feel confident in God and I feel confident in doing what I want to do. I don’t think I would have been as confident if you hadn’t given me the opportunity. I just feel loved because you love me.
Bob: That’s great! [Applause] Whenever we’ve done this “pretend,” without a real parent in the room, we don’t get the opportunity for it to go the other way. We’re going to take just a minute and we’re going to turn the tables and let you just express to Chay what she has meant to you. Can you do that?
Sheri: I’m just one of many because, as you know, the whole church really ministered to you; but because I was the one who took you in, I’m the one who got to reap the blessings of loving you, and knowing you, and being a part of your life. People give me way too much credit for how wonderfully you’ve turned out because you’re an amazing girl, and you’ve done a lot on your own; but I feel very blessed that God used me to be a part of your life.
Bob: That’s great! [Applause]
Scott: Well, Mary, you know, you’re not my adopted daughter—you’re my daughter. I’ve always considered you that way. From the minute you moved in, it was just like you’d been there your whole life. I love you very much!
Mary: Thank you. [Applause]
Dennis: There have been a few times when I feel like I have been observing and peering into the Holy of Holies—a father and mother’s love—and what individuals can mean to a child is powerful. This verse seems appropriate—Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for wholeness and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
Let me pray for us: Father, thank You for the privilege of hearing two great stories—stories of adoption, redemption, love, belief, and families. Even in our imperfect, broken state, You use us. We marvel. Thank You for the body of Christ and what they can mean to the 400,000 foster care children. We pray, Father, for the Summit and its many ministries—many churches—many arms, and legs, and hearts represented here—that You would grant favor upon the dreams that are imagined and prayed to You in these days and that You would use the army of God to rescue those and give them families. We pray this for Your glory, in Christ’s name, Amen.”
What a great couple of young women—encouraging hearing how God used their foster families. Our hope, our desire, and our goal would be that every family would ask themselves, “How can we care for the needs of orphans in our world?” Maybe it’s through foster care, maybe it’s through adoption, maybe it’s through supporting orphanages overseas. We believe every family can do something.
The need is so great that we think every family ought to, at least, ask the question, “What would God have us do as it relates to the needs of orphans all around the country?” Our team here at Hope for Orphans is hard at work trying to help families answer that question. In fact, this year, on National Orphan Sunday, which is Sunday, November 4th, the team is planning something very special for that weekend.
They’re hosting the first-ever national “If You Were Mine®” weekend. The first 500 churches that get in touch with us and say, “We would like to help couples in our community better understand the process of adoption,” —we have a video seminar that we have put together; and we will send you the video seminar, at no cost. This is something you can host for people in your church or in your community.
This is something that anybody—who has a heart for adoption—get this kit. Get approval from your church, and plan to do this on a Saturday or on a Sunday at your local church. Find out more about the national “If You Were Mine” weekend, November 3rd and 4th. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Here, in a couple of weekends, at Southern Seminary, the Hope for Orphans team is teaming up with the folks at Together for Adoption to host a pastor’s conference. There’s more information about that at our website, too—FamilyLifeToday.com.
Finally, let me mention that the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit is scheduled for next May—May 2nd and 3rd—in Nashville, Tennessee. If you have a heart for caring for the needs of orphans all around the world, the Summit would be a great event for you to be a part of. There’s a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com so that you could pre-register for Summit IX, May 2nd and 3rd, in Nashville, Tennessee. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information.
Now, tomorrow, we are going to continue to look at how we care for the needs of orphans. We’re going to hear what four Christian leaders have to say about men getting involved in orphan care ministry. We’ll hear from Rick Warren, Russell Moore, Dennis Rainey, and Jedd Medefind on tomorrow’s program. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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