In part 2 of this series, Kayla and Ryan North join co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber in discussing how to create safe environments for children in foster care. From mission trips to Sunday school, the North family shares practical insight in caring for children who experience anxiety or post-traumatic stress when they go to different environments outside the home.
Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has and on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we are here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette: Mike and Heather Picker were high school sweethearts. They’ve been married for nearly 21 years and have three beautiful children, one of whom joined their family through adoption. They live in a small farm town, just outside the greater Saint Louis metropolitan area, and Heather is the CEO and Executive Director of Divine Nest. Heather homeschools her kids, she works part-time with the family business, and truly has a heart for foster and adoptive families.
Tera: So Heather, welcome, we’re so glad you’re with us today.
Heather: I’m so excited to be here.
Tera: Well why don’t we start off and you tell us a little bit about your family.
Heather: Mike and I were high school sweethearts and then we ended up getting married in college, and we’ve been married for probably close to 21 years in August, oh my goodness. And then we-
Tera: That’s awesome.
Heather: I know, it is awesome. WE have a 19-year-old boy who’s in college playing golf. And then we have a 15-year-old girl, and a 13-year-old boy. And we have two dogs and we live in a small town, we actually purchased my husband’s parents’ house about two years ago, and so we live out here on some property, and that’s just how we roll.
Tera: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. So you are the CEO and Executive Director of an organization called Divine Nest. So why don’t you explain a little bit about Divine Nest and how you got started with that ministry.
Heather: Okay. Divine Nest in an adoption and foster care ministry. We serve the DFS, we serve foster families, foster children, kinship families, and then adopted families, internationally and domestic. We just want to honor people who care about kids. In fact, our mission statement is “Honoring and investing in the lives of all those who care for children.” And really that’s just what we do, we want to make a community around adoption and foster care, and just really make it normalized. So first of all, our adoptive kids don’t feel strange about it, and second that we really work through other families to do the same thing. So that’s kind of what we focus on. We focus on parenting support and equipping families with trauma education and we just feel like the biggest advocate for adoption is families that really know what their purpose is and, not necessarily are perfect or do it perfectly, but just have a confidence in God that they’re walking out their calling. And so that’s really what we try to do, is to equip families with whatever they need authentically to help them, whether that’s food, a couple meals, our first night bags, some classes, a night out, whatever they need we just try to be there for them.
Lynette: Heather I love what your website says. My mom used to always tell me that kids are a victim of circumstance. When they don’t have what they need, when they don’t have their basic needs met. And on your website, it’s like you heard my mom 40 years ago say, “Kids don’t choose their circumstances.” And I love how you add that, that at the center of this dysfunction that some children find themselves in, is trauma. And I’ve seen in my own family, you’ve probably seen with your son, when children are truly loved great things happen.
Heather: Yes, absolutely.
Lynette: And then, yeah, the healing can come and relationship can happen. How do you guys help nurture that?
Heather: Well I always say that God works through peace, and scared kids do scary things. And so when we focus on just their behaviors, we have to take it back, it’s like an onion and you kind of have to peel it back.
Lynette: That’s right.
Heather: And these kiddos have had to really protect themselves and were not able to trust the adults in their lives or just from even, you know you see some from birth who have just already started detaching in utero. And so just to peel that back and to get to the heart of where the holes in their development are and just fill that with love and peace instead of reacting to their fear, but just really peel it back and just love on them. And that sounds so easy, but it’s so hard. And I think just equipping parents to be able to do that and to support each other through that process is just really important.
Tera: So what are the ways that you’re doing that, Heather, specifically? How do you equip parents to do so?
Heather: Well we meet, we have a mom’s group that meets every week. We actually right now are working through a book called, it’s Jason Johnson’s book, “The Beauty and Brokenness of Foster Care” is what it’s called. So we’re working through that, we just really try to pray for each other, pray for our kids, pray for our hearts that we stay on the right track in our hearts, that we don’t get discouraged. So we meet every week and do that as moms, and then we meet on Thursday nights with a group of just couples and it’s similar to that but it’s a way for dads to get involved. And then we do parenting classes where we provide training to them, the Child Division has approved it for hours, so that’s always good. We provide lunch and childcare, so there’s really no excuse, it’s free and there’s really no excuse that people can’t come and just learn and soak that in. And those have been awesome.
Heather: And then we try to give a respite night’s out, so kiddos can come and hang out with and do fun things like, basically it looks like a carnival, bounce houses and snow cones and all kinds of fun stuff for them. But mom and dad can go and just have a night to themselves and eat dinner and know that their kids are in a good place.
Lynette: That’s just fantastic and I love the stats within your church. This is fascinating, that your church plant, you’re an SBC church plant in Moscow Mills, Missouri, you have how many adopted children?
Heather: Close to 30, I mean there is a-
Lynette: That’s incredible.
Heather: That’s an anointing on this ministry of adoption in our church. And that wasn’t just from Divine Nest, that was before Divine Nest. It is just amazing the amount of people that are there that are … the kiddos that are adopted or in foster care. We probably have nine to eleven families who actively are fostering at any given time.
Tera: That’s really incredible.
Heather: It is just powerful, yeah. It’s really fun to be part of it because we went to some really great churches, but there is just such a community around adoption and I love that. I love that for our biological kids, I love it for our adopted kids, because it’s just, it’s life and we just live it together, so it’s super, duper fun.
Lynette: But you’re just right, like what you had put under the mission statement from your website, that you say that divine nest is “reaching into the ugly, the broken, the worn and the most weathered situations, and breathing the love of Jesus onto them,” and that’s where you begin to see change. And when the body rises up and does that, that’s when you really begin to see, you’ve been quoted as saying, “An army to rescue the fields of the fatherless.”
Heather: Absolutely. And this has happened, God closes your doors off sometimes, like he ministers to you in ways that you never thought could actually happen, or you never would have perceived that it would happen. And some of the coolest things have happened with our volunteers. So people who thought, “Oh, that’s a good thing to get involved in.” And so they start helping and these kids are thanking them, and like we had a particular gentleman who was really involved in our fundraiser, our golf tournament, and then through that he kind of got pulled into what our mission was and started serving at some of our events, and coming to our bonfires and just really connecting. And got saved through it, we actually, my husband baptized him in our pond in the back yard at one of our family fun gatherings.
Tera: That’s awesome.
Heather: It was awesome, because you know here you have a young man who … to him all this is new, and through working with these kids he found Jesus, and I love that. Like who would have thought our volunteers are finding Jesus. So that’s one of my favorite stories. And there’s hundreds more that go with it, I mean it’s just one after the next, of people who are stepping out and just really finding their purpose.
Lynette: I love that because you really want to encourage others to take the first step, and Tera and I have always talked about if you can get someone to take one family or a mom or someone in the family to make one step toward helping an orphan or helping a child in foster care, just one step forward, it seems to break down the barriers of fear.
Heather: Absolutely. And I think that people are so intimidated that they have to be perfect.
Lynette: Yeah, that’s right.
Heather: Or they have to do things a certain way. And I mean if they lived for a day as a fly on my wall, it is so not perfect. It is ugly, there are slamming doors, it is not fun all the time. But that’s okay, that’s what family is. And I think that the second that we become real and we kind of let down those barriers and stop idolizing our families and just really start being truthful and transparent and relatable, I think that people will recognize that, “Hey, I can do something too.” And that’s what we want, we want these other families to step up and just be part of this, and there’s so many ways you can be part.
Tera: And aside from, when you said there are 30 kids that have been adopted and then nine to eleven families who are fostering in your church, when your congregation comes in and they see these children in your families and they see how your families have been built and it does create a normalcy about it so that they are also, if they decide to enter into this space, they are not going into it with rose-colored glasses. They see, “Okay, yes, this is hard, but it’s doable. The Pickers are doing it,” your pastor has adopted, “there are so many others that are here. They’re doing it and it’s not easy, but it’s not so hard that I couldn’t envision myself doing it.” And it makes big difference when people are fearful about even volunteering with a ministry like that with foster kids. There’s such a preconceived notion about what a teenage foster kid would be like, or a school age foster child would be like. And when you’ve got this community about you, it just really does break down those barriers and gives people a really good on ramp to be able to be a part of it.
Heather: Absolutely. And I have a friend of mine, and she was inspired to do it with her husband, and I love her story because she talks about how as Christians sometimes we get really comfortable, and we live really comfortable. And somebody said, “What could you do that you’re going to have to lean on God? So you can’t lean on your own self. What can you do to do that?” And you look at this, at this walk and this journey and how, I don’t know about you guys personally but my faith has grown leaps and bounds through my adoption and through after, you know, just like learning about myself and unconditional love and how we are supposed to be, and how much Jesus loves us. Those things are incredible in your faith walk. And so I see this family in particular, that was what they needed to do to lean on God, is they had to walk out in faith and do this. And they have been blessed and blessed and blessed with these kiddos that have been in their home, and it’s exciting to just see their heart transformed. And their bio-kids too, just their passion for it that has just grown, is truly encouraging for anybody looking in who’d want to do it.
Tera: That’s awesome, Heather. Well as far as people who are listening and think, “Wow, they do so much, there’s no way we could ever do any of that,” we always say start small with something that’s easy for you to do. Start small but do something. So everyone can do something, if you’re not fostering there are things that you can do. So it would really be great for us to kind of go through some of the things that you’ve talked about already, but kind of explain those a little bit because someone may be listening and think, “Wow, I could completely do that.” So I know that one of the things that you all have done is that you have assembled and given some first night bags. Can you explain that, what that is?
Heather: Yes. This is probably my favorite thing that we do just because I love it, I love shopping for little people. But when we get a call of a child’s who’s been placed in a new home, in foster care, the parents contact us and tell us the age and the sex of the child, and then we go and just buy everything that that kiddos going to need for the first night. So toothbrush, toothpaste, pajamas, a big fuzzy blanket, we try to throw in a Bible or some sort of book that is faith-based, a stuffed animal … just any, like a comb, anything, diapers, wipes, formula. Whatever that child in that age group is going to need that night, and a nice backpack that’s not, we don’t logo it up or make it stand out in any way, something they could take to school if they needed to. And then we just drop it off on the front porch of the house or meet them somewhere so that they can pick it up, and that way the families don’t have to run to Walmart during the most traumatic night of this child’s life. That they can just sit there and be present with that kid and just really make them feel comfortable. So that’s probably one of my favorite ministries that we do.
Tera: So these are not just people within your church, these are people within your county?
Heather: Absolutely, their within our whole county, and we’re trying to get into the neighboring county as well, so yes. And these people do not go to church, and to stand there and to stand in faith and pray with these people, what an amazing humbling experience, to stand with these people who are on the front lines so to speak, doing the things that … I can’t do that right now, in my life. Like I’m not there. But to stand with them and pray with them and deliver these bags to these people, it’s such an honor. And so sometimes … that’s a great outreach for churches too, because like we talked to a family a couple of weeks ago. They didn’t have a church home. They were between places, and so to be able to offer them a place where they were going to feel comfortable bringing in foster kids and adoptive kids and come broken, come as you are, it’s going to be fine, I mean that’s awesome. And so there’s longevity in that.
Tera: So were you able to get these, I mean how did you get the word out so that people knew to contact you? I feel like that would be a question someone would want to know.
Heather: Yeah, that was the biggest challenge that we faced. Because at first Child Division is extremely careful, they won’t give out information, and that’s good, they shouldn’t. So it has been, over the past year, almost to date, that we started doing this and so we’ve had to really just … Facebook’s awesome because there’s different private groups and stuff within our communities that are for foster parents. We have our own Facebook page so we can put out reminders. We make sure we say it at all of our parenting classes and events, to pass the word around, this is what we do. And then DFS has been awesome about sending out our flyers to their families, letting them know that, “Hey, if you need help, Divine Nest does this service. Just call them.” And so we can work together with that, but that has been our biggest challenge, is just getting the word out about that service.
Tera: That’s a really awesome opportunity to be able to do that and I feel like as time goes on that you’ll increase and increase that. So I have another question for you because you’ve got respite nights and these first night bags, and a Christmas gift drive, and Christmas dinner that you provide for foster families, where is the funding coming from for this?
Heather: Yeah, so we held a gold tournament dinner gala last August, and we were so blown away by the support that we ended up with. I think we had over 240 guests. That night we raised over, or right at $40,000, which I mean was three times what our goal was. We were just like, “What?! This is incredible.” But the volunteers and the heart that they put into it just made it like this really fabulous event and it was just so much fun and people really got into it. And we’ve been able to do so much with those funds, I mean if you look at that and you look at how much it costs to put together a bag, we can do a whole lot of bags. Do you know what I’m trying to say?
Tera: Yes, yeah.
Lynette: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Heather: And we can host parenting classes for free, I mean … we can do these things because of the funds that were provided. So yes, we’re a separate entity from our church, so we can fundraise just for that and I just, the volunteers and our donors are unbelievable, they blessed us this year. And so that’s how the funds are raised. And there’s a couple of other, there’s been some other companies that have stepped up and raised money for us, like held trivia nights for our … for Divine Nest, and donated their funds towards us. So we’ve just been, those have just been some really key people who have just really fed into our ministry.
Lynette: I just love the example here that it’s the church’s responsibility to rise up, to get involved, take a step forward, and just really begin to support foster families take in foster children, to have a heart for children who need a home. Not just a heart but to take action, to do something. You know faith is works with legs on it, right? It’s a passion with legs on it. And so, Heather, what would you say to someone sitting in the pew who really wants to get involved but they don’t know the first step to take?
Heather: Yeah. So the best, I heard a sermon, and the best sermon, it stuck with me forever because it’s, “Go. And if you can’t go, then send someone. If you can’t send someone, then pray for them.” So if you put that into adoption, there’s families out there, you’re in the time-frame where you’re raising families, you’re raising your own kids, you can do this. And then there’s, maybe you’re not in that age group anymore, but now you have money or a resource that you can use to help the people who are going and push them and support them along the way. And if you are in a place where you can’t do either, every single one of us can get on our knees and be as intentional and pray for these kids, constantly and every day, and the parents that are down in the trenches with them. All of us can do that.
Heather: But in a general speaking way, how can they help? Well, make a meal. Take a frozen lasagna over to a family who just got a new placement. Mow somebody’s lawn. They’re overwhelmed, so go over there with your lawn mower, ride around for an hour, and it’s, “Man, that’s just so uplifting.” I mean there’s just so many ways that we can sow into these families. And they don’t have to be a big deal, stuff that we do all the time.
Lynette: I love what Isaiah said in 1:17, he said, I go back to this all the time and I keep tearing it apart, Heather, but it says, “Learn to do good.” Like we’re just not born with that, right? “Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppressions.” And that’s what the church, that’s in Isaiah 1:17, “Bring justice to the fatherless.” But that’s what we have to rise up and begin doing, correct oppressions against these children.
Heather: Absolutely. And with our church, I see Divine Nest as kind of like the life preserver, the buoy that we throw out, do you know what I’m trying to say?
Heather: To help these families who are kind of sinking or being overwhelmed by these waves, right? So we throw out this really authentic easy help, because the church is the lifeboat.
Lynette: That’s right.
Heather: Yeah that’s where the families are going to come onboard, and they’re going to be able to … it’s sustainable then, because their relationship with God where that strength is going to come from, is what the church can help teach and sow into these families. So as much as Divine Nest that … it’s awesome, right in the moment, the church has to be able to reach down and grab these families and put them in their boat and help them along. And I think that if we as a church body, like every church in America, stepped up and did that, I mean there wouldn’t be kids in foster care anymore. I mean this problem would be over with, it would be done. And that’s what our mission is, and our heart is, and hopefully it inspires other churches to do the same thing.
Lynette: So you have a website, Divine Nest has a website, and we encourage people to check that if they want more information on how to jumpstart this ministry in their own communities. So Heather, thanks for being with us today, and we’ll be praying for your ministry.
Heather: I appreciate it, thank you so much.
Tera: You’ve been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other available resources visit SendRelief.org.
re touchy feely, tend to be a little more nurturing, not that you’re not, and dads tend to be of the authoritative kind of parenting. So, how can you speak to dads about even just considering looking into doing something like this? That’s a little bit unconventional.
Ryan: Well, I think that it addresses an issue that I had to really kind of struggle with, and that is if you are going to lead your family, you need to consider what is best for your family. You need to be willing to embrace new ideas because so many times we hear from men who say, “My wife has taken over the leadership of our family.” And I always respond the same way, “No, I think you’ve allowed that.”
Ryan: And so I really want to challenge dad in saying that if you want what’s best for your family, you have to consider all of the options. You have to have the humility to say that I may not be right because I didn’t have that at first. I had the idea of, well he just hasn’t been in the family long enough. But I think it does take a level of humility to say, “What I am doing is not working.” And it takes a level of humility to say, “I need help.” And I struggled with asking for help. But what I’ve come to understand is that asking for help doesn’t prove you’re weak, it proves that you’re smart. I think it’s evidence that you’re smart. You recognize, “I need shoring up in this area of my life and I need to do what’s best for my kids, I need to do what’s best for my wife.” Because embracing trust based parenting, for me personally, was not just transformative for my children, it was transformative in my marriage. It was what was good for them, it was good for my wife. She homeschools those kids. And if we’re not creating an environment of felt safety, where she can actually thrive and reach them and educate them instead of constant struggles and battles and chasing kids who are running off, you know what I’m talking about, right?
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Ryan: So I feel like I don’t only have a responsibility to my children to consider if what we’re doing is working and then embrace these things, make relationship important, I have that responsibility to my wife as well.
Ryan: And so I think that men need to have the humility to question if what we’re doing is in the best interest of our family and I think we have to have the humility to question, “Are we effectively leading our families?” And the answer, a lot of times, no. And then you have to not be defensive about that, you have to receive that gentle rebuke and then you have to figure out how to do it better because at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to my wife, it is my responsibility to my children to do whatever I can to create the environment of felt safety where they can grow and heal and hope can come back to our home. And I think that that is my duty to them before the Lord and I have to take that seriously as that statement implies, it needs to be taken.
Tera Melber: And I think as a woman you say, I know maybe all three families here could agree, that we’ve all had to stop and say, I mean the Lord’s built our families in unconventional ways, okay, all three of our families. And there comes a time where you have to stop and say, I believe you do, there’s no shame in saying, “We’ve got to regroup here.”
Lynette Ezell: This is not, just what you were saying, Kayla, you know, and Ryan, what we were raised to do or how we saw our parents’ marriage, even though it was great, this is not working here, we’ve got to regroup. When my husband does that in our home, I have so respect for him because I need his leadership. And when he says, “Lyn, this isn’t working this way this time.” We have six kids, they’ve all launched differently. And they’re all going to launch differently or they’re all going to make different choices in life, we all have that constant of we love the Lord, we pray together, we seek Him, training their hearts right. But they’re all, they all come from different places in life. And so when my husband says, “We’re gonna stop and evaluate this decision and how we’ve been doing things,” as a woman my respect-
Tera Melber: It’s a game changer for me too.
Lynette Ezell: It is a game changer, you’re right.
Tera Melber: And you know, we talk about our kids needing felt safety, but it makes me feel felt safety. When I can kind of feel like I’m underneath that wing of David’s protection and objectivity sometimes when I feel a little bit out of control with, “Oh my word, I’m trying to stuff the next fifteen years into today.”
Lynette Ezell: Overwhelmed, yes.
Tera Melber: And he said, “Okay, hang tight cause we’re gonna look at things a little differently.” So, I do appreciate that and I feel like our husbands, when they take that leadership role, it does allow that felt safety for the entire family.
Ryan: Which I think is my responsibility. But you said something, Lynette, that I completely agree with and that is that at this table I would imagine, from what everything that’s been said, I know it’s true in our home and been true for a lot of families we work with, that mom has that humble moment way before dad does. Where mom realizes we need help way before dad does because dad’s like, “No, we got this.” And it is a question of humility, I think, to be able to say, “I need help.” And to say that what we’re doing isn’t working.
Ryan: We just visited a church last week and they were preaching on Ephesians 5, which I know, when people do weddings, the bride half the time will say, “Can we not do that Ephesians 5 stuff?” I don’t know about half of the time, I know there have been weddings that I have performed where the bride has said, “Can we not include that?” But they preached on it and the week before they preached on the passage in, kind of the parallel passage in 1 Peter. And he said, “Men will come to me and say, ‘Pastor, my wife is not submitting to me.'” And he said, “Are you loving her well?”
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Ryan: And he said, a lot of times we look at those verses in the Bible and try to focus on what the other person is supposed to do. And he was saying, no, if you really want an environment in your home where, like you said, Tera, that you feel comfortable and safe under the wing, that is my responsibility to my family. And all of the goodness that God wants for our marriage and our family comes out of the place where the dad says, “I want that for my family.” And I think ultimately I didn’t have the chronological or spiritual maturity to realize that ten years ago. But I hope I do now because I think it’s really, really important.
Ryan: Part of the peace and the happiness in our home doesn’t just come from the kids’ healing from their trauma. It comes from us healing from our own and it comes from us connecting better in relationship. And you know we were talking earlier today about over the years the amount of arguments Kayla and I have had have declined. Over the years conversations with aggravated tones of voice have declined. And it’s all because we’re in this together and when we’re in something together, and there’s copious amounts of research on this, that if you have somebody who’s with you and says, “I’m in the foxhole with you, we can do this,” amazing things happen born out of that reality. And I think that dads have that responsibility to their families to say to their wives, “Yes, this doesn’t make sense to me, and I will just go along with your intuitiveness with children,” cause that’s what happened with us. “You’re good with kids, I’m not. I’ll be willing to embrace this.” Just take up that mantle of leadership and say, “You know what this is unconventional, but I’ve heard it works.” There’s enough families out there that will testify that it works. Just say, “I embrace that, I want that for our family, let’s let the healing begin.”
Tera Melber: That’s right. Well, thanks so much guys, we appreciate you being here with us today. Look forward to more resources coming down the pike from your website. And so, we appreciate your time.
Kayla: Thank you.
Ryan: Thanks for having us.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.