Welcome back to my personal project, Spotlight:Inspiration! Thanks so much to Josh Marck for sharing his passion of music with us last time! Read about it here!
Now please let me introduce to you my friends, Matt + Jennie Tornabe! They’re the kind of people who are ALL IN. They’re so loved, respected + held in high-esteem by those who know them.
Matt + Jennie have one biological son + are fostering twin five month olds! The family caught my eye at church a short while ago when Jennie excitedly introduced me to the babies saying, “I’m their foster Mom!!”
I had to learn more. So I did. Here is their story.
(Because of privacy + Pennsylvania laws, photographs of the babies faces may not be shared publicly. You’ll just have to trust me that they are really, really adorable!!)
Me: How did your journey with foster care begin?
Jennie: I remember watching the movie “Annie” when I was young + being really upset for all the girls because they didn’t have families. There was always a question at the end of the movie, ‘What happened to all of the other girls??’
As I grew older I learned that wasn’t just a movie but that there really were kids out there who didn’t have families. That’s where it really began for me. I wanted to do whatever I could for children who needed a safe and loving home. I knew I wanted to provide a place of refuge for them.
Before I became a foster parent or was even married, I did what I could to help kids that didn’t have safe homes or didn’t have stable parents. I did a lot of babysitting. God put a lot in my pathway, especially kids that were born to single mothers who were struggling. I would offer to take the kids overnight to help the moms out. It was my way of fulfilling the heart to foster before I was really ready to do that. Now here we are actually doing it + it’s kind of crazy!
Me: I remember talking with you years ago about our mutual passion for adoption + orphan care. A lot of people have told me they want to foster or adopt someday, but I see a small percentage of them truly act on it. I’m so glad to see you living this out! Matt, when did foster care come into your world?
Matt: The first time foster care hit my world was in a Chinese food parking lot with Jennie (he laughs). We were picking up takeout for her Mom and Dad + at this point we were just talking about the possibility of being engaged. Jennie told me that if I wasn’t on board with fostering and adopting, that would have been it for us because she wanted to do it so badly.
Jennie: For some reason sitting in the parking lot, it hit me. I just started crying. I said to him in tears, “You don’t understand…I am going to foster or adopt. I’m going to do it, with or without you. So you better just tell me now if you want to do that, or else this is just over. This is God’s call on my life + if you’re not ok with it then you’re not the guy for me.”
I was going to tell him to walk away. And he was so puzzled. But he said, “If that’s what you want to do, that’s what I want to do, too.”
Matt: Growing up my mother would always take in people. There were always people around who weren’t blood relatives living with us. And mom would sacrifice many things…making extra food + driving people places. So I was brought up being made accustomed to helping other people, thanks to her.
Me: At what point did you both decide to foster children?
Jennie: So shortly after that conversation in the Chinese restaurant parking lot we got engaged + six months later we were married. We were newlyweds so we weren’t going to jump into it.
After our biological son Pierce was about a year old we started doing respite care for our friend’s foster children. We wanted to see how well we could really handle it. We wanted to test the waters to really see what it was like.
We did that for about a year or year and half + we really enjoyed it. We knew we could handle that. And then we realized we were ready.
Me: What would you say is your inspiration to be involved in foster care?
Jennie: The way that God has brought me into His family + made me His own, I have that same hope for these kids I’m fostering now. My hope is that they have a better future.
People have said to me, ‘you’re an angel’ and ‘you’re a saint’… And I say, ‘I’m not. I’m just willing.’
Me: I love that. What has been one of the biggest challenges so far?
Matt: It’s a level of sacrifice. You’re giving up your time… Time away from Pierce + your free time. Sometimes you’re exhausted when you hit bed at the end of the day from caring for them. But it’s a sacrifice that’s godly. Because in James it says, “True religion is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
Jennie: There are all kinds of challenges. There’s the challenge of learning to adjust what life is like with two extra babies. Like Matt said, trying to find to invest in everything else that you were investing in before.
Foster care is much different than adoption. You need to be ready to adopt should that opportunity arise, but you have to keep the perspective that these children may not be here forever and that your job is to provide love and safety to them in the moment.
I would lie if I said it was easy. You get attached; you love them. You start having dreams of the future. You just have to be ready that they might go back…
Me: I remember you had said to me that you just have to expect that your heart is going to break at some point.
Jennie: Right, you do, you do. And the truth is, if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong. As a foster parent, if your heart doesn’t break for these kids, then I would be questioning them. So in a sense, it’s gonna break, you just know.
It’s more heartbreaking to me to continue to hear about children being in unsafe places + without a home than it is to have my heart broken when they leave.
The scarier thing is not doing a thing about it. I would rather have my heart broken and know that I did what I could for these kids as long as God allowed than not doing anything about it. At the end of the day if they do leave at least I can look back and say, ‘God I did something for that one.’
Me: That’s beautifully said. Matt, would you say anything to the men who might be nervous at the idea of fostering?
Matt: If you can raise a son of your own, if you can go do work + be responsible, you can foster a child.
Jennie: And you don’t have to take a sibling group of five, for instance. Part of that answer is to know your limits.
Matt: Yeah, don’t go above what you think you can handle. But, God also gives you strength in those moments to do more than what you ever thought you could have done.
I know that many people don’t want to get attached to the foster kids either. They find that it’s hard. This child (holding his foster son) is not mine + I love him just like I do my own. But when they (foster kids) have to go, it’s definitely difficult.
You have to view it as a ministry. Right now these babies need a loving home which they might not have ever gotten. But in this season, they’re experiencing that.
Me: What have you learned through fostering kids?
Jennie: I learned that God gives you the strength. I learned that you need a community to do it. And the other thing I learned is the system is broken. I kind of knew that before, but when you’re in the middle of it, you really see the pieces that the rest of society really doesn’t see.
We are representing Jesus not just to these kids, but God has said it’s so much bigger than that. It’s also about representing Christ to their birth parents, the caseworkers, + their nurses. We get to be a light to so many more people beyond just the children.
Me: Sometimes things like foster care sound so grand, but I respect you guys in that what I’m hearing you say is that it’s also very simple. It’s about showing up + opening your home and hearts. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. So looking ahead, what do you envision down the road?
Jennie: It’s such a learning process. I guess I could cross off a list that “I’ve fostered”, but it’s so much deeper than that. This is a goal that changes your life. It doesn’t stop…we’re living in the call of fostering children. One day I want my home to be filled with photos on the walls of children we have taken care of.
Matt: It’s a 24 hour a day ministry! (As he goes to feed one of the children.)
Me: Thank you both. I really appreciate you sharing your story + I’m really excited to share with people.
Interested in foster care or adoption? Contact: Bethany Christian Services.
Volunteer with foster children! Contact: Royal Family Kids.