Last Christmas season, Julie Wondergem shared her story with us about saying yes to the hard things and trusting in the promises of God. After struggling for many years to have children, the Wondergem family waited on God and He fulfilled His promises 7 times over. Last year, God added two sons to John and Julie's family. They are now expecting their 7th child in October. Today, we celebrate both their journey and their victory.
Story - Julie W. - as told by 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.
“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.”
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.
“Still, every time she thought about giving up, one question stayed with her, “If not me, then who else is going to do it?””
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?”
“No decision we have ever made since being married has ever made sense to anybody,” Julie laughs as she reflects back on the beginning of their journey. She remembers being in Chicago when they first decided to try in vitro fertilization before moving back to Louisiana. Julie had been through six months of IVF treatments when her doctor told her the she would never get pregnant without the use of IVF, according to them it simply was not possible. They were faced with yet another difficult situation- while living in Illinois her treatments were covered by insurance, but if they moved to Louisiana they would have to pay out of pocket.
“Each time she made that drive, one word would echo through her mind: “Ishmael.””
As she prayed over her decision she became more of aware of God speaking to her through certain memories and thoughts. Julie says one day she remembered a class discussion she had in her freshmen year of college. The discussion that day had been about the story of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah had not been content to wait on God so she took matters into her own hands. Abraham and Sarah’s short-cut cost everyone involved dearly, and as a result Ishmael was born. Many people, including Sarah, suffered deeply due to her lack of patience and trust in God’s timing.
“The adoption agency responded by waiving nearly $10,000 in fees. ”
For months Julie drove up the five story parking garage on her way to get her treatments. Each time she made that drive, one word would echo through her mind: “Ishmael.” At first, she did not want to admit that she was hearing this warning, but eventually she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. It seemed to defy logic to quit the fertility treatments process but she could not stop thinking that this was not the right time for this child. It was another crossroads moment for the couple; should they do what everyone else advised them to do or should they do what they felt God telling them to do? Ultimately they decided to forego further treatments and move back to Louisiana. They knew what God was calling them to do; they were going to adopt a child.
Julie woke up the morning of her thirtieth birthday in Louisiana, and she was not happy. She had been married for eight years, and on this landmark birthday, she still did not have a child. Once again, she cried out to God and He answered by telling her to pray for her child and her child’s birth-mom instead of focusing on herself. She prayed all the way to work that morning and even went so far as to call her husband to say she thought they would eventually have a little girl. When she got home from work that evening, she realized she had received an email from the adoption agency. They had a baby girl up for adoption and wanted to know if the couple was available to adopt her. They told the adoption agency they wanted to take her but they had not yet been able to raise the funds for the adoption fees. The adoption agency responded by waiving nearly $10,000 in fees.
“Eventually, she realized that this was God’s plan all along.”
Five children and fourteen years later the Wondergem house was full. Their house was full of constant activity, laughing, screeching, crying, everything that goes along with having a house full of children. Julie had settled in her heart that she would not have biological children. She knew God had sent her children through other birth-mothers, and she was at peace with God’s plan. You can only imagine her surprise when she found out that after all this time, she was pregnant.
“She says she had to be freed from thinking that God was angry at her because life was hard. In fact, she learned, God is good especially when life is hard.”
The pregnancy was a trust-walk all its own. She had been down this road before and new all too well that she could lose this child. Her anxiety grew with each passing week- she knew all the landmarks that she and her child were supposed to make and each time they reached one she breathed a sigh of relief. Eventually, she realized that this was God’s plan all along and she was able to relax and have peace in her pregnancy knowing God had been with them and He would not leave now. They decided to name their baby Isaac, because like Sarah’s promised child this one was arriving in God’s perfect timing.
Julie is a wealth of wisdom, having gleaned hard-earned lessons from the journey that she has been on. Looking back, she realizes that if she had a child like they initially planned she would not have her other five children. She also says that she has come to know and trust God in an intimate and deep way because in her most desperate times, He was her anchor. She says she had to be freed from thinking that God was angry at her because life was hard. In fact, she learned, God is good especially when life is hard. Having a difficult path does not mean God is mad at us. It is in these moments of hardship and desperation where we grasp who God really is. He is kind, He is good, and He believes in us despite what life throws our way. Sometimes we have to do what we know God is telling us to do even when it doesn’t make sense.
Like Julie, if we will say yes to God and work with Him in doing the hard things, we will come to know a freedom in Him that we cannot find anywhere else - because Jesus believes in doing the hard things.