The Love in Letting Go

How one couple’s obedience in the face of fear brought about the redemption of two families.

Children did not come easily for Matt and Katie. The couple clung to their faith in the face of infertility until God finally led them to foster. Their journey brought them a little girl who stole their hearts and challenged their faith in the God who gives and who takes away. When faced with losing the daughter they’d prayed for, Matt and Katie learned how God can turn even our worst fears into profound blessings.

The phone rang as Katie jostled her daughter from one hip to the other to answer. She caught her breath when the caller identified herself as a case worker looking for a family to foster a newborn.  

Years of praying and trying for children gave Matt and Katie one biological daughter and no more.  

“We trusted God,” Katie said, “but it was hard not to hope every month that His answer would change, that I would be pregnant.”

Foster care presented a beautiful opportunity. Matt and Katie knew God could use them to love and care for vulnerable children. And eventually, they hoped God would bring them a child they could keep through adoption.

They weren’t naïve. They knew the outcome of each placement would vary. While some of their friends who fostered got to adopt their very first placements, others spent years caring for children they did not get to keep. Matt and Katie were happy to be a temporary home for the children who needed one. But they believed that when the “right one” came along, they would know.

The couple took their first two placements knowing the babies wouldn’t stay long. But they loved them while they could and let them go with heavy hearts. After the second baby left, Matt suggested they take a break – no new placements for one month to allow their hearts to heal.  

But Matt was out of town when the phone rang three weeks later, and the case worker needed an answer. Katie’s own heart took a back seat as she thought of the precious newborn, alone and waiting.

“I can be there anytime,” she told the case worker. “Just tell me when.”

Katie met the case worker in the NICU. Sleeping there in a glass box surrounded by wires and monitors was the tiniest baby she’d ever seen. The name card on the basinet read “Holly.”  

Holly had arrived seven weeks early after the death of her twin in utero forced an emergency C-section. She weighed a pitiful 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Her birth parents, the case worker told Katie, showed obvious signs of drug use. But while the birth mother was not ready to pursue parenthood, Holly’s father, Zac, was holding onto the hope of one day earning the right to raise his daughter.

Zac had a long, difficult road ahead of him if he was to succeed. And Holly couldn’t wait. She needed a family now. And as Katie left the hospital, car seat in hand, she committed to loving Holly as well and as long as she could.  

When Matt returned home to the family’s unexpected addition, any trepidation he may have felt quickly vanished. The sight of such a frail, vulnerable child fractured and captured his heart almost immediately.

“I remember when we first brought her home, we bathed her in a bowl in the sink. She was that small,” Matt recalled. “She didn’t even seem ready to leave the hospital.”

Holly wasn’t just small. She was sick. Her little body tremored as it fought through withdrawals from the drugs her birth mother used during pregnancy. The rapid detox left her too lethargic and weak to cry. Matt and Katie relied on alarms set throughout the night to wake them for feedings. They took turns coaxing the newborn to eat.

Such intensive care created a deep bond between the parents giving their all and the baby who needed them. Weeks turned into months, and the family’s attachment to this special little girl deepened as she grew. Matt and Katie adored the personality that emerged as she got stronger. And their daughter, Audra, doted on her long-awaited baby sister.  

Months passed. During that time, Zac had occasional visits with his daughter. The joy he expressed at seeing her each time left no doubt that he loved her. But his attendance was sporadic. When he did show up, it was evident that addiction still held him captive.

Meanwhile, Holly had blended seamlessly into her new family. They celebrated her first birthday with a smash cake, took her on family trips. Even the extended family could no longer imagine life without Holly.

Finally, after seven months, Zac’s lack of progress began to reshape the foster family’s expectations for Holly’s future.  

Katie recalled thinking, “Okay, her mom seems to be out of the picture. There’s no way Zac is going to be able to get clean after this long. And even if he does, could he really parent a one-year-old daughter alone?”

Slowly, cautiously, Matt and Katie began to set their hopes on adoption. At that point, Katie told God she could no longer bear the thought of giving her baby back. She prayed He would never ask that of her.

Unbeknownst to them, however, a grim wakeup call was about to send Zac’s life in a new direction. God was not done with him yet. And His plans to rescue this struggling addict would bring Matt and Katie face to face with their biggest fear.

Zac’s wakeup call came at a funeral. Confronted by the unexpected death of a friend, he felt convicted to reevaluate his own life — to decide who he wanted to be. In that moment, Zac knew he wanted to be a dad. He wanted to get clean and become the man Holly needed him to be.

That same day, Zac committed himself to rehabilitation at an inpatient drug treatment facility. By Holly’s first birthday, Zac was free from addiction.

And he didn’t stop there. Following rehab, Zac entered a sober living house and joined a parenting support group. He’d found the motivation to fight. He was becoming a father – and he wanted his daughter back.

Over the next few weeks, Matt and Katie got the news of Zac’s remarkable improvement. Their minds raced as they tried to understand what God was doing. They’d always known fostering wouldn’t be easy. But they’d never expected to care for a child so long, to love her so much, and then face reunification in the end.

“It was pretty scary when Zac actually did start to get it together,” Katie said. “He got a job. He got an apartment. And I was terrified for my family.”

Finally, as the placement neared the 17-month mark, a decision had to be made. Would the case move toward reunification or termination of Zac’s parental rights?

Matt, Katie, Zac and Holly’s case worker all gathered for a meeting that would end in a ruling. Once face to face, Matt expressed his family's wishes. They loved Holly, he told Zac. They were the only family she’d ever known. The case worker then asked Zac to voluntarily relinquish his rights to Holly.

Zac responded slowly, shaking his head. “I can’t do that.”  

The case worker reminded Zac of the work still ahead of him. He would have to find childcare, hold down a job, keep passing drug tests. Zac met the worker’s gaze.  

“You can test me every single day for the rest of my life. I’ll be clean,” he said.

In that moment, Matt realized just how deeply Zac loved his daughter. He’d fought too hard to give her up now.

The meeting ended, shattering Matt and Katie’s hopes of adoption. Zac and Holly would be reunified.

The couple faced a genuine test of their faith as the child they loved slipped through their fingers. Once again, God’s answer was “no.” The case worker’s decision left them with a hard choice to make. They either had to let Holly go altogether or stay connected through the man who was taking her away.

One night, Katie broke down with the moms in her Bible study group. Heartbroken and angry, she told her friends she could not bear to watch someone else raise Holly. Once Zac got Holly back, Katie felt sure she could not and would not stay involved in their lives.

“Don’t say those things to God,” Katie recalled with a faint smile.

As reunification day neared, Zac’s visits with Holly became more frequent. Between pickups and drop offs the two families began interacting more and more. Almost in spite of themselves, Matt and Katie began to recognize just how hard Zac was working to provide for his daughter. He’d taken classes, studied and practiced parenting. The couple had to admit, he was becoming a great dad.

Finally, the day came for Holly to leave Matt and Katie’s home. And in the weeks that followed that painful goodbye, the couple felt as if their world had turned upside down.

The house suddenly felt quiet and empty. Up till then, Audra and Holly had shared a bedroom. Their daughter missed her little sister —they all did. And despite their broken hearts, they knew Holly still needed them too.  

Before long, Katie found the strength to do the very thing she thought she couldn’t. She reached out to Zac, offering hand-me-down clothes and inviting them for dinner. Zac gratefully accepted. The two families began communicating regularly, swapping advice and photos.

One day, as Katie helped Zac organize Holly’s closet, she marveled at the joy God was bringing out of the very situation she had most feared.

“We realized that whether or not we adopted Holly, we were committed to her,” Matt said. “She had become part of our family for life. So once Zac got her back, that commitment just had to look different.”

Six months later the reunification became final. Zac had done it – Holly was officially his. Though their hearts still ached, Matt and Katie found themselves genuinely celebrating with him.

Even then, God was using Holly and Zac to prepare them for future blessings they still couldn’t see.

Matt and Katie took a year to grieve and heal after losing Holly. They emerged on the other side, however, to find their hearts opening to the idea of fostering again. Their journey continued to bring ups and downs, hopes and hurts. But as they weathered each storm, the couple found comfort in what they’d already overcome.

“Our worst fear became reality,” Katie said. “And I trust God even more because of it. I’m not afraid to grieve. I know now that whatever we go through, God can bring us through it.”

God used Matt and Katie’s faithfulness in the face of fear to bless two families beyond measure. First, Holly now gets to be raised by a father who fought for her, allowing Matt and Katie to faithfully return to their calling to foster.

Second, that calling brought more children into a safe, loving home, including those intended to answer the couple’s prayers. Two years after Holly’s reunification, God blessed Matt and Katie with not one, but two adoptions. Today, with the addition of their little ones, Bryson and Gracie, they are a completed family of five.

Today, they enjoy a close friendship with Zac and Holly, gathering regularly to celebrate birthdays and holidays together. They now joyfully share their family’s story and give glory to the Author who knew its end from the beginning.

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Every foster care story has two sides.

To read this story from Zac's perspective...