Do The Hard Things: Part I - Julie W. - as told to Tori Penton.
Fourteen years ago Julie began a journey on a path that she never saw coming. At first glance, Julie is unassuming, seemingly quiet and even timid. However upon further observation, one realizes that she is a force to be reckoned with, an anchor for her family and those around her; she is the epitome of the virtuous and capable woman spoken of in Proverbs 31.
Julie begins her story fourteen years ago as a newly married woman. With her husband, John, the journey of being foster parents began with a little girl who lived with them for nearly two years. ears. During this time, John and Julie were asked to take a newborn for two nights. Two nights quickly turned into four months while this baby girl depended on Julie for everything. Giving back the baby that she had mothered for four months was one of the most gut wrenchingly painful things she had ever done. This kind of pain would make anyone doubt whether they were supposed to continue on this path. Why would God bring this child into her life only to take her away? Why would He take this baby away when He wouldn't allow her to have her own? What had she done wrong? For a year, these were the questions that swirled around in her mind while she remained angry with God.
That year proved to be invaluable as Julie had to answer some deeply rooted questions about her motives for being a foster parent. She was faced with the question of whether she was called to be a foster parent or if she was simply trying to fill a void within her own heart. This was simply too hard a task to take on if only doing it for selfish motivations. John and Julie had to make a decision- would they quit fostering because it was too painful or would they continue on the path God had laid before them? They were in the middle of this process when they met their next two foster sons. These boys were brothers and they were at risk for nearly every major behavioral and emotional problem there is. Julie and John questioned if this was God's plan. These boys were teenagers and they knew it would take everything they had to pour into these brothers' lives. They had come up with many reasons why they shouldn't take the boys but when their foster daughter moved out they knew they were out of excuses. Julie realized the only excuse left was that taking these boys in would be hard. It was at that moment that Julie and John finally accepted that it wasn't going to be easy to do what God had called them to do with their lives.
They picked the boys up from a summer camp in Michigan soon after they made the decision. The doubts kept coming as Julie feared she had no idea how to take care of these boys. She was inexperienced with the high needs they had and she often doubted her effectiveness as a parent. She felt inadequate and ill-equipped to parent these kids. Still, every time she thought about giving up, one question stayed with her, "If not me, then who else is going to do it?"
The boys ended up living with them for over three years. However, due to a mistake with the foster care agency, the rights of the parents of these children were never terminated. The agency refused to grant the Wondergems guardianship rights due to this mistake. It was at this point that the family decided to move back to Louisiana. The brothers had a decision to make. One opted to stay in foster care in Chicago, the other moved with the Wondergems. Nearly a year into living in Louisiana the Wondergems received a call that their foster son’s oldest sister had been granted custody and the child had a life altering decision to make. Ultimately the child decided that he needed to be with his biological family and said his final goodbyes at his thirteenth birthday party. Julie was devastated. All of the why's came rushing back to haunt her. “Why,” she cried out to God, “do you keep taking my kids?”
If you've been touched by Julie's story, come back Thursday, December 3 for Part 2 and the wrap-up of her story.
This Christmas season, The Harbor has chosen to generously give back to this family for all that they've done for foster kids in our state. Kids across the state have discovered that hope's name is Jesus because of the work of John and Julie Wondergem. If you're interested in helping to make this the best Christmas ever for the Wondergem family, feel free to give online here - just be sure to note Wondergem Christmas in the comments.