Rewriting the Story
“There's this yearning, I think, in each one of us, particularly Christians, to write a bit of a different story, to stand out and be unique. Not to be standing out and to be unique for unique’s sake, but because God is all about adventure,” Zach Kallenbach describes.
Zach met Rachelle in college. They were both surprised and thrilled to learn that the other felt God had granted them a glimpse of what may come to be written on some of their future pages. Both had contemplated becoming foster parents at some point in their lives.
Rachelle’s parents started fostering around the time she was in middle school. “We had a good life and I really thought that was pretty normal,” Rachelle recalls. “So when these kids start coming in and you hear a bit of the backstory, it's like, whoa, this is real.” By the time she was in high school, Rachelle already felt that being a foster parent might be part of her story as an adult.
Zach also describes a time as a child when he felt God plant fostering in his heart. Though he had never heard the term “foster care,” Zach felt a gentle pull to provide a peaceful and loving space to children who weren’t born into one.
How often do we feel ourselves drawn to something bigger, something more, something different? We can all relate to that. But how often do we also find ourselves longing for a sneak peek of our story before taking that first step?
After they were married, Zach and Rachelle had three kids. Between raising their children, jobs, and Zach working on a master’s degree, it never quite felt like the right time to pursue their goal to start fostering children. But then their Connect group picked their next book to study: “Radical” by David Platt.
Rachelle explains, “The premise of the book is basically that the Christian life should look radical to the rest of the world. If we're really living out the Bible and loving and serving the way the Bible says to, then we should really not be chasing ‘The American Dream.’” The group of young couples began to recognize that American culture tends to focus on comfort and protection. They saw pretty quickly that this focus didn’t line up very well with what God teaches us in the Bible. One by one, many of them began to describe how their hearts were changing, their eyes were opening, and desires to adopt or, in the Kallenbachs’ case, foster were beginning to emerge. “There's just this camaraderie that we built through it all,” Rachelle says.
“And you see what's possible,” Zach adds, “and you see that you can and probably should rewrite your own story. And how do you do that? By taking some action and swallowing hard and practicing courage...we were doing good [in life] I suppose, but you know, at the end of the day, we weren't being very radical.”
As many in their Connect group started the adoption process, the Kallenbachs took the leap and began attending information sessions about fostering. They asked questions, took notes, battled fears, and prayed. And at the end of it all, though they knew their lives would likely never seem “ready,” they also felt confident that God wasn’t looking for perfection—he was looking for willingness. So with willing hearts, they became licensed foster parents.
The need was huge—they received four phone calls to take in children on their first day. Their first placement of two children lasted seven months. That time was riddled with ups and downs—tantrums and tiny hugs, new friendships between the kids and fights over toys, feelings of inadequacies and small victories.
“That's where I really feel like our Connect group kind of sustained us,” Rachelle recalls of that first placement. “They brought food over early on...but more than that, it wasn't the stuff they brought. It was the emotional support of me crying and having someone to talk to or me feeling like maybe I made a mistake... And I needed to be able to be honest about that. I needed to be able to say everything on my mind and not feel judged for it.”
She tells the story of one night when a friend from their Connect group, Emma, called up to let Zach and Rachelle know that she was coming over to put their oldest foster child to bed. This child had come in, like many foster children, with fears and insecurities brought on by some rough life experiences. In his case, they manifested in an extreme fear around going to bed at night. When Rachelle didn’t even know to ask for it, Emma anticipated how good it would be for Rachelle to spend some extra time with the other four children that night. Emma took this hard but necessary task taken off Zach and Rachelle’s plate. It was that “in-the-trenches-with-you” kind of help that Rachelle found invaluable from their Connect group.
When each of their foster children eventually left to be reunited with family, it was difficult for Zach and Rachelle as well as their three kids. But, as a family, they started to learn an invaluable lesson. “You’ve gotta love them so big but hold them so loosely,” Rachelle explains. “You have to hold them with open hands constantly, which is how we should hold our own kids really, you know—these are God's kids, not mine.”
The Kallenbachs’ journey eventually led them down a path to adoption. They’re currently taking a break from fostering as they work on settling in as a permanent family of six, but that has not taken foster care off of their hearts.
“It is a mess,” Rachelle admits when describing the many challenges in the system. “And I think, you know, we were OK with stepping into that mess. Because...I think that's kind of what Jesus did. He was on this earth, right? He stepped into the mess.”
“There are a bunch of excuses,” Zach says, “but there aren't really that many good excuses. We're not so much defined by our thoughts as we are our actions. And obviously thoughts can lead to actions, but oftentimes, thoughts don't lead anywhere. That's what happened for us for ten years—we thought it would be a nice thing to do. We thought that we could do it and we thought we had the gumption or the skill to do it. We thought that we had built a good home that would be welcoming to someone else. And nothing ever happened until we were moved to action.”
That move into action came with risks and fears and uncertainties about the mess they were about to step into, but it also came with the joy of seeing dreams realized and new and exciting chapters written. This world is full of messes, but it’s also full of beautiful adventures. The Kallenbachs have found that sometimes you can’t have one without the other. If it means following our radical God, the adventure is always worth the mess.
Kari Freeman is so great. She's the Communications Coordinator at Summit and is so helpful, smart, kind, and also likes tacos. She makes Summit a nice place to be. You can email her at email@example.com.