From an early age I never believed that I would have my own birth children.
In my mid-teens I realised that, instead, God had given me a mother heart for children in need, which I firmly believe led to my career in social work. I remember being at Christian festivals and seeing people respond when asked if they needed healing for self-harm or eating disorders, and my heart would ache for them. A passion burned in me to see all children given a voice when they are unable to speak up for themselves, and for them to know love and to not feel alone.
I worked initially in child protection and continuing care, and later I moved into fostering and adoption services. In every circumstance, whether intervention services with families on the child protection register or placement matching for looked after children, I sought to keep the child’s voice central and prayed for hope for those feeling hopeless and stuck in their situations.
Nothing quite prepared me for the situations I entered into and the brokenness I witnessed.
But fortunately, life stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and watching a child lift their head from looking at the ground, for them to grow to trust another adult, to hear them eventually begin to dream and share their aspirations for the future, is what pushed me on. I understood that I wanted for each of them what any child has a right to – what I would want for my own child.
I was brought up by a great mum who would do anything to protect me, to keep me safe and to love me unconditionally. Over the years, God has opened my eyes to opportunities when I could do just that for others, and the most precious opportunity I have is through my relationship with my godson.
Their son had experienced far too much pain in his little life, but now he was home and navigating his way through what family could be. It was not a straight-forward transition because he had never known real love or understood what it feels like for someone to stick with you whether you are feeling happy, sad, angry or confused.
My friends have been his rock, they have fought for him, contended and never given up. He still has wobbles but now has a great sense of humour, a contagious laugh and a huge heart.
The day they asked me to be there for him as his god-mother, I had no hesitation in saying yes. I recognised the responsibility, in that I had been entrusted with the spiritual welfare of one of God’s precious treasures, but I knew that as part of his family, I would not stop fighting for him.
I don’t live in the same city as my godson, but we face time and we send postcards and his mum keeps me updated about how he is getting on and how well he is doing at school. When I last went to visit he waited at the front window all morning for my arrival. After the greatest cuddle I’ve ever had, it was time to play. Saying good bye is always hard but, thankfully, he now believes that he will see me again. We have already booked in our next meet up, and after Big Ben, I am the second thing he wants to see when he comes to London.
I always want him to know I am here for him, that I love him and God loves him. I want him to know that we are family and even though family isn’t always easy, we stick together. I pray protection over him and his parents, for an overwhelming sense of him being safe and so much joy and adventure in his future.
The determination of his parents inspires me to hope for all children. My heart could burst when this little man holds either side of my face and tells me he misses me and I celebrate with him each time he wins a battle.
I am a mother. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but I feel no less of one as I pray and contend for my gorgeous godson or for the many children I know who are waiting for their forever family.
We all have a choice, we can either be a consumer of God’s gift to us or be consumed by the gift he has given us and hungry to step out in faith and say ‘this is all I have, but please send me’. The question is, are you prepared to pause, pray and listen to where he is leading you? You could be family to others by loving them when they do not feel loveable.
We can all demonstrate a mother heart to vulnerable children in our community, what might that look like for you?
If you've been inspired by Jo's story and want to do more to support vulnerable children, why not read one of these articles to give you some practical ideas of things you could do:
Five ways we can all #SupportAdoption
Supporting foster and adoptive families: 10 things that really make a difference
Five things to ask foster carers or adoptive parents (and three questions to avoid)
Yeovil Family Church has hosted Adoption Sunday for two years, and has seen families choose to foster, adopt and support.