For nearly two decades Jillana Goble, a mom via foster care, birth, and adoption—in that order—has experienced life’s curveballs. She knows first-hand how this life is real and complicated, messy, colorful, good, exhausting, and exhilarating―often simultaneously. She chronicles the narratives of her story in her debut memoir, A Love-Stretched Life: Stories of Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected, and Discovering the Meaning of Family. If your life isn’t tidily wrapped up in a bow, her come-as-you-are posture amidst a daily reality far different than she ever imagined will reassure you that you’re not alone. It’s a grace to welcome Jillana to the farm’s table today…
When my husband, Luke, and I were in our mid-twenties with exactly zero parenting experience, we welcomed Royal, a six-year-old boy in foster care.
Royal exposed us to countless realities previously unknown to us as we cared for him for one year – and then said an abrupt and unexpected goodbye.
“it is undeniable that the seeds of an in-depth connection to a little boy in 2003 is what allowed sprouts of reconnection and unfurling buds of hope.”
Through a series of unpredictable twists and turns, we lost touch with him for thirteen years. His summer birthday was always circled on my calendar, and I wore a ring I always associated with him, one with a stone that was chipped when Royal accidentally dropped it from his first-grade fingers. As I turned the ring on my finger, I said silent prayers for him during the years that we were lost to each other.
Royal and I unexpectedly found one another again when he was nineteen and living out every dismal statistical outcome associated with youth who bounce around foster care, including homelessness and incarceration.
It may seem like a cliché to say that seeds had been planted, but it is undeniable that the seeds of an in-depth connection to a little boy in 2003 is what allowed sprouts of reconnection and unfurling buds of hope.
Royal, in his early twenties, was desperate to get a job and at the time was temporarily living under our roof.
I cherished the simplicity of knocking on his bedroom door and saying, “Goodnight, love you!” I was content watching him liberally take piles of chocolate chip cookies off the kitchen counter. And my heart aligned with his in frustration as I drove him to yet another job interview where his arrest record went before him like a parading trumpeter.
He was here for Christmas, just as he had been when he was a little boy.
At the Christmas Eve candlelight church service, we were all given a small white candle to hold. Royal, always one to sit on the very end of the pew for access to smoke breaks, tipped his lighted candle to the wick in mine. I watched it flicker as we sang about a thrill of hope and how the weary world rejoices.
“Who in the world could have ever predicted that he’d be here and choose to be sitting next to me.”
When the carol ended, I prematurely blew out my candle. Royal smiled and teasingly shook his head as he relit my candle. Who in the world could have ever predicted that he’d be here and choose to be sitting next to me. He lent me light as I held my candle, wearing the same jagged-gem mother’s ring on my finger that he gave me when he was a little boy.
Later, I tried to snap a selfie of Royal and me around my kitchen table, and for the life of me (like the tech-savvy, cool, fortysomething I am), turned on a video instead. “Welp, anything you have to say?” I asked him.
“You’re the definition.”
“Of being a mom. You’re the definition to me of what it means to be a mom.”
In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle shares that we hope (against all human inclination) to not model the “one false move” eye-in-the-sky kind of God to others, but rather the “no matter whatness” of God.
“Spun together with the currency of attention, the power of apologies, and unconditional acceptance, being a mom stretches and beckons me to continually learn from and alongside my children.”
This no matter whatness erases shame and fills us with tender mercy. It allows us to truly see the person in front of us.
My ever-evolving mothering with all my children, through the uniqueness of their histories, the indelible imprint of trauma, and their innate wirings, humbles me. Spun together with the currency of attention, the power of apologies, and unconditional acceptance, being a mom stretches and beckons me to continually learn from and alongside my children. It invites me to not sweat the small stuff, but to link arms, bear witness to the struggles, and celebrate the strengths of those around me.
As parents, we have a tendency to repeat things to our children—both mundane and significant—throughout their days and throughout their lives. The reminders are for them, yes, but it’s also reassuring to us to hear these things voiced aloud so that perhaps this time, they can internalize the message at a deeper level.
Sharing with my children in word and deed “You are loved and okay, fully accepted, inherently worthy, just as you are” draws me in and nudges me closer to the no matter whatness of God.
Jillana Goble is an author, advocate, non-profit founder, and—with her husband, Luke—parent of five children ranging in age from preteen to adult. With honesty, faith, and a dose of humor, her debut memoir, A Love-Stretched Life, chronicles what she’s continually learning on the suspension bridge between reality and hope. No matter your life stage or family makeup, this compilation of stories will stay with you as you strive to love and to love well, even when—and especially when—it’s hard.
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion. ]