The story of a discernment

May 28, 2009 | 54 comments

Occasionally I get asked for examples of what it looks like to try to discern God’s will for a specific situation. In this post I’ll offer the details of how my husband and I discerned that we were called to do something unlikely and a little scary recently. Oh, and this is the “big news” I mentioned last Friday.

The beginning

Last May my husband and I read a touching article in our diocese’s newspaper about a single mom who had adopted a 12-year-old child she originally met through the Kidsave Summer Miracles program. We were fascinated not only by her story but by the mission of Kidsave, a wonderful charity that allows kids across the world who are growing up in orphanages to live with American families for a summer. The vacations serve the dual purposes of giving the children a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out of their orphanages to see the world, and also to find potential adoptive families for them (though the children are not told about that latter purpose so that they’re not disappointed if it doesn’t happen). Ninety-three percent of the kids involved in the program end up getting adopted.

“Too bad we couldn’t do something like that, ” my husband and I said to each other. We set the newspaper aside and forgot all about it. We tried to, anyway.

In the months that followed, both of us kept thinking about that program. It was odd because neither one of us had ever had an interest in anything related to adoption or fostering or otherwise working directly with children. As I’ve said before, we’re not naturally “kid people” and felt like we had our hands full enough in that department.

“The finger of God is here”

The thought of this program continued to nag at both of us, though we never talked about it. Then, a few weeks ago, my husband sent me a link to this PDF with FAQ’s about the program. On a whim I replied, “Want to do it?” I was half joking, thinking that I would get a quick “ha-ha” reply.

Instead he replied saying that he might like to consider it, but there so many reasons we couldn’t, including the facts that:

  • We have four kids under age five, including a newborn
  • It’d be tight to afford it
  • Our parents would think we’re crazy
  • Our car is filled to capacity, with no room for one more person
  • Our family of six lives in a three-bedroom house, which doesn’t leave us with tons of extra space (by American standards, anyway)
  • Since we surely couldn’t adopt, it might disappoint the child if we couldn’t find a home for him or her
  • We’re not exactly Wally and June Cleaver — maybe a kid wouldn’t want to spend a summer in our crazy, chaotic house
  • The program requires you to go to weekend events every weekend for five weeks, and we’re already busy

Yup. He was right. Look at all those reasons. We couldn’t do it.

And yet, to use a discernment technique I learned from the life-changing book He Leadeth Me, I asked myself if the “finger of God” was in this situation, i.e. if I had peace about that decision. I did not. I was completely unsettled when I thought of not pursuing this any further.

This prompted me to take a hard look at our reasons, and I came to see that none of them were insurmountable. Yes, we have a lot of little ones, but I’ve been able to hire someone to help me a few hours per week and both our mothers are very involved in our lives, giving me lots of support; yes we have a newborn, but we’ve learned a lot in recent years about how to make the newborn period as unstressful as possible; yes we’re out of room in our car, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world to take two cars when we all have to go somewhere; and so on. I shared these thoughts with my husband and he agreed.

“How does it impact your primary vocation?”

I picked up the phone and called the Kidsave headquarters to chat with a program director. I voiced my concerns and told her about our lives and asked her to tell me if she thought we wouldn’t be good candidates for the program. She made some suggestions about what type of child we’d want to request so that we didn’t get in over our heads, but encouraged us to find out more by talking to the local coordinator here in our area. She said she’d pass along my info and have her call me.

A couple days went by and I hadn’t heard from the coordinator. I wasn’t sure what I should do about that. Then I remembered the first litmus test my spiritual director always gives me when I’m trying to discern anything: “What are the fruits in terms of your primary vocation?” My husband and I have been called to the married life, and a legitimate call from God would only strengthen that part of our lives. Anything that would cause strife or stress or resentment towards one another or our children can safely be assumed to be the wrong path.

Based on this advice, I decided that I would not bang my head against this door if it wasn’t opening. We do have our hands pretty full right now, and it would begin to negatively impact my vocation if I had to spend hours and hours dealing with bureaucracy and chasing down paperwork to hit the impending deadline to participate this summer.

On the third day without a phone call, I decided to pray. Sitting in a chair in my living room on a Sunday afternoon, I crossed myself and began, “Lord, since I have not heard from the local coordinator I will assume that we’re not supposed to go down this path. If you want us to proceed, you will need to make it very obvious so that–“

The phone rang. It was the local Kidsave coordinator.

“Remember that you don’t have a crystal ball”

The coordinator informed me, to my surprise considering that it was almost May, that we had not missed the deadline to do the program this summer. But in order to do it we’d need to fill out a mountain of paperwork, go to a few long training sessions, and have a social worker visit our house for a homestudy.

I was tempted to get stressed and overwhelmed. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY GET THIS ALL DONE BEFORE THE DEADLINE?!?!”

That’s when I remembered another piece of advice my spiritual director gave me: Remember that you don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly where God is going with this. Meaning, though we felt certain that God had called us to apply, we should not therefore assume that that means that God was calling us to host a child this summer. Who knows? Maybe this was a “tow truck driver” situation where God’s whole plan here was just for us to connect with the Kidsave coordinator.

So I decided to just proceed in peace, working on the paperwork as I could get to it, accepting that it may very well happen that I just couldn’t get to it all in time for the deadline; I took comfort in the knowledge that I was living God’s will by simply taking each next step that he called me to take, not assuming that I knew what the final outcome would be.

Long story short, it all got done in time for the deadline. The social worker stopped by with only an hour’s notice on a Saturday, so she got to see what life is really like around here. We didn’t try to present ourselves as people we’re not. I just let her have a glimpse into our crazy, noisy, slightly messy house (complete with my two-year-old hitting her 21-month-old sister over the head with a baby doll right in front of the social worker) and told her that I trusted her expert opinion as to whether or not we were capable of being a good host family for a child.

Last Monday I found out we were approved for the program. Last Thursday we were matched with a child.

I was going through my inbox during naptime when a new email arrived from one of the Kidsave folks. It had an attachment. It all became very real at that moment, when I would see the face of the little person with whom our lives were destined to intersect.

I found out that she’s a 12-year-old girl from Colombia, whom I’ll call “Rita.” When I read through the Word document that chronicled her life story through checked boxes and two-sentence answers to form questions, I started to cry. She’s been through more loss and pain in her young life than most of us can expect to see in a lifetime. When I opened her picture and looked into the eyes of a child without a home, I started crying again.

“Closing my eyes”

Into my mind flooded a whole new set of fears. What if we’re not able to handle any psychological challenges she might have from the difficulty she’s been through? What if we can’t find an adoptive family for her? What if we want to adopt her but can’t? What if we want to adopt her and can?! What if she doesn’t like us? What if we don’t click with her?

A quote immediately came to mind, one that I clung to more than two years ago, when I was assailed by difficulty right before I entered the Catholic Church:

Dear Lord, I do not ask to see the path. In darkness, in anguish and in fear, I will hang on tightly to your hand, and I will close my eyes, so that you know how much trust I place in you, Spouse of my soul.

– Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad

One of the reasons I didn’t blog any of this was because I didn’t want any distractions in the discernment process. This is a big decision that involves more lives than just our own, so my husband and I wanted to make sure we got it right. And now we’re confident that we did.

It’s an interesting experience to be so sure that you’re called down a certain path by God himself, and yet to still have fears. I’ve noticed that on the days that I skip prayer and don’t make much effort to remain close to God, I’m particularly plagued with controlling thoughts and “WHAT IF?!” worries. But, on the days that I pray, I have the peace of knowing, as Bl. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad would say, that God is holding our hands, and all we have to do at this point is to simply close our eyes and let him lead us, one step at a time.

UPDATE: Just found out that Rita will be here from July 2 until August 4.


Photo of orphaned child by Michael Mistretta


  1. Melanie B

    Wow. Just ow. I’ll be praying for you and all your family and for “Rita”.

  2. Iona C.


    I’m finishing up my last year at a local community college and am trying to prepare to transfer. I find myself unsure of where to go, if my major is really right for me, how I’m going to afford it, etc. etc. etc.

    I realize the need to seek God’s guidance and His path for my life, but sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it right as I have no real idea of what to look for.

    Though our circumstances are different, I’ve learned a great deal from your post and your personal example of discerning God’s will.

    Thank you so much for your faithfulness to the Lord. You’re an inspiration 🙂

  3. Christine

    Amazing. What a wonderful way to listen and respond to God’s call.

  4. Kevin

    God bless you and your husband!

  5. Lesley-Anne Evans

    What an exciting time for you. I really appreciate how you take things that are so ‘spiritually complex’ in nature… often unexplained in the church setting, and make them clearly understandable… and immediately applicable to my life. I decided to write today at my blog (my grace notes) on my understanding of your blog on Discernment today… if that makes sense. I’d love it if you could have a peek and see what you think. I know life is busy, so no pressure.
    Thanks for your incredible writing.

  6. Josephene

    God keep you and your guest.

    My husband and I sponsor two children overseas, and I sorely wish we could do another one. Fostering also has been on my mind for over a year, but like yourself, I am plagued with fears.

    But it’s a prayerful dream I feel “peaceful” will occur some day.

    You and your husband are inspirations of the Godly sort. Thank you.

  7. Rosita

    Thank you for being willing to say “yes” to this call and “no” to the fear that always accompanies a new path. My prayers will be with you and your family as you open up your home to someone in need. Thank you also for sharing the discernment process. I will come back to the quotes and insights in the future I am sure.

  8. Laura

    Wow. What a great story and witness to us all. I hope that you will be able to keep us all up to date on how your summer goes.
    God Bless.

  9. Tara Sz.

    Oh my goodness, Jen – God bless you and your Family and now your blessed 5-week addition.

    And thank you for such a wonderful thought-provoking post on discernment. Exceptional.

  10. Anonymous

    I don’t think I’ve ever said this to anyone before, but bless you. You are doing what I long to do myself, but I don’t live in America.

    Also, your post spoke to a completely different subject for me. God is calling me to the Catholic faith, I don’t know why and I’ve tried to stop it (my family are anti-Catholic which makes a hard faith even harder) but who can deny what God wants? So I am working my way through the fear. Funnily enough, the quote you used from blessed Mary Elizabeth echoed something that happened to me last night and only confirmed more the direction I am supposed to be taking.

    I have tried to find a spiritual director with no luck; I tend to think of you as my spiritual director now, lol 😉

  11. Curryba

    This is fantastic! God bless you and little ‘Rita’!!

    I hope you haven’t already posted on this and I just haven’t found it yet–but I would love to see a post summing up all the latest breaking knowledge you’ve gained about “how to make the newborn period as unstressful as possible!!”

  12. Emily

    This is such a wonderful story! I will be praying for your family and Rita.

  13. cliquish chicken

    you are amazing. thank you. i love reading your blog- it is an inspiration to me. this new part has really surprised me! what a generous life you lead. and what good advice about following God’s will.

    Thank you thank you.



  14. Karen

    It often feels good and scary to follow the path God puts before us. I’m so excited for you and your family as you partake in this adventure. I will be praying for you!

  15. Bethany

    Awesome. I love reading your blog- so much good perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Meredith@MerchantShips

    Talk about hospitality–wow!

  17. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly

    You never cease to be a source of inspiration to me. Okay, and sometimes a source of “oh my gosh! how does she do it all and with such grace and humility?!!?”

    You and “Rita” will be in my prayers/ God bless you all!

  18. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, wow is right. I am in awe. I also think you’re in for a wonderfully blessed summer. I look forward to hearing all about it. Who knows — maybe some of your readers will be inspired to do something like this, too. I’ll be thinking of and praying for you…

  19. CM

    First of all, I will be praying for God’s will to continue to happen in this whole situation. Second of all, thanks for the reminder about how to take things one step at a time and see where God is leading!

  20. Carrien

    That sounds really, really exciting. I’ve never heard of Kidsave. I wonder if the kids in our children’s home in Thailand would be eligible.

    Do the children already speak English, or is that something they learn when they are with you?

  21. MamaTod

    Through a series of miracles, God brought 2 brothers to us from an orphanage in Mexico last fall (ages 14 and 15). Literally, no agency I called nor adoptive parent has EVER heard of anything like our story and it is so obviously God’s plan for us. We have legal guardianship and have petitioned for adoption. But since they came, the mountain we had been praying about…money…has only gotten bigger. It’s like God has been kicking all the props out so we HAVE to expect Him to make it happen. This is so obviously God’s story, God’s work. We can’t see exactly what He’s doing, but “faithful is He who calls you who also will do it”. To refuse the stress, the confusion, the interruptions is to also refuse the laughter and hugs and mostly to refuse God’s blessing. I want God’s blessing more than anything, so I choose the path He has for me. May He bless you richly for your obedience.

  22. Amber

    Beautiful. Thanks for laying out this story of your discernment and I pray that everything will go well for your family and Rita this summer. I know I’m called towards adoption at some point, but I also know that the time isn’t now. I’m not sure when it will be, but I hope I will be willing to listen when God tells me that I need to be moving forward on this.

  23. margi

    You are wonderful – I have tears in my eyes and I will pray for you and for Rita.

  24. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    I am praying for you and your family and Rita. This is going to be an exciting summer for you!

  25. Karita

    Wow, this is so wonderful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  26. Trena

    My husband and I will be praying for your family while you are on this journey. And what an amazing journey it will be.

    God bless you, for doing what most people wouldn’t, and that is looking past our own crosses to help someone carry their own.

  27. Anonymous


    I am so touched! I have followed your blog for about 6 months and was wondering what that cliff hanger from last Friday was all about. I am the mother of 3 children adopted from Africa ages 4to 8 with some special needs. My husband and I have considered a larger family but have been cautious … Do we have the energy? Will our children “suffer”? We have moved slowly but we are now close … to introducing another African, a 15 year old lone-coming refugee, into the family. The papers are being filled out in the kitchen, social worker coming next week. It’s a big responsability and all we can do is pray and let ourselves be carried.

    I am so much looking forward to following your progress. Your post today is yet another word from God that this road is ours …

    in Sweden – far away from Texas

  28. Martin


    I’m glad you linked back to this story or I would have missed it.

    You and your husband are stars! Praise the Great King!

    Oh you make me want to be a saint. I’m glad you linked back to this story.

  29. Hairline Fracture

    God bless you, Jen–for being open to God’s call and for sharing the process with us. I am in a longer-range decision (meaning it doesn’t need to be made now, but I tend to overthink ahead of time) and these points were very helpful.

  30. Candace Jean July 16

    What a blessing your family will be for “Rita” – and I’m sure she will bless you in many ways as well.

    “Well done,good and faithful servant.”

  31. Anonymous

    You are doing a lot of living right now. I sincerely and fervently pray for you and your husband to have strength and patience and faith and peace over the long haul.


  32. Jen

    So my question is – does she speak English? Do you & Joe speak Spanish?

    And while I certainly understand the stresses involved with this new addition for the summer (and beyond?), I'm wishing that was me – that's exactly the kind of adventure that sounds SUPER exciting to me. Maybe that's why God didn't ask me to do it – I have much more work to do in my own little family which doesn't feel all that exciting.

    May God bless you on this journey – and may He bless little Rita and all the children who will go on this adventure to America and the families who will welcome them. Also, may he bless the ones who will stay in the orphanage this year. That their day might come, too.

  33. emily

    So excited for you guys.

    Inspiring post.

  34. coffeemom

    WOW!!! Jen, well, you made me cry as I totally, utterly, get this path you’ve turned onto. You and I will both be bringing home young teen girls this summer. I understand precisely your fears and worries and worry about being capable to brace yourself for her hurts in order to help her and also still be there for your kids at home now. I so get that. Perhaps we will have much to compare notes about! I am putting this immediately on my prayer list and really, I got chills reading this and it DOES seem like t his is the finger of God. We go through that same discernment process/steps and Czisek’s book is one of my favorites, excellent.

    I am thrilled for this adventure for each of you, can’t wait to watch it unfold!!! Prayers will be ongoing and bless you for stepping out in faith! M

  35. Dawn

    Oh gosh… I’m not sure I wanted to read this! LOL. A death in the family this week will possibly make the life of my dh’s young cousin much harder. We spoke briefly about taking her in. Your discernment process is impeccable. It would be helpful for us. Thank you and God bless your efforts in this endeavor.

  36. e2

    Praise God! It sounds like the finger of God is certainly at work here. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” I’m so so happy for you all. Have a blessed summer!

  37. J.

    Wow! Great!

    My parents have taken in a girl the same age as “Rita” from Haiti. She’s lived with us all year and will live continue to live with us at least through next year.

  38. Anonymous

    Wow. This is amazing – I am so in awe of your level of trust. It’s really something I need to work on..
    I’ll be praying for all of you!
    God bless 🙂

  39. Michelle

    God sometimes beats you over the head with His will if you’re not paying attention. I know that from experience. Good luck with your new challenge. That’s very exciting. I’ll be praying for you.

  40. Elizabeth

    God Bless you and your family…it sounds like God has a very interesting summer ahead for you.

    On a related note…one of the families in our homeschool co-op raised/ is raising TWELVE children in a three bedroom house. They have EIGHT boys and added a third level to two sets of bunk beds and have one single so that they once had seven of the (older) boys in one room at one time. It is important to remember that bedrooms didn’t used to be about “personal space”…they were for sleeping in! BTW two of her older boys are in the seminary (Tridentine Rite) one was in the Marines, and her oldest daughter is married with two of her own in two years! She still has 4 or 5 at home…so the place has cleared out some 🙂

  41. Lana

    I also want to add a “wow.”
    That seems to be the popular word around here. I hope you will not mind if I also say this: there is plenty of time. God isn’t in a rush.
    I have a personal rule: no major life decisions within a year postpartum.
    That said, I know that generosity leads to more generosity and God continuously expands our hearts. So I look forward to hearing more about this journey and seeing the hand of the Divine at work. In peace, Lana.

  42. Can I Change A Life?

    My goal is to seek God’s will as much as you do.

  43. Kelly @ Love Well

    This is AMAZING, Jen. I’m astounded by how God is speaking into your life. (Maybe I should say I’m in awe of the big ears you are growing.)

    May He bless His work in every way. On with the adventure….

  44. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I cry happy tears…

    He’s blessing you, Jen….

  45. Karen in FL

    A few years ago we hosted a 5 year old boy from Ethiopia who came to our city for facial surgery. Henok was with us for only 6 weeks, but he became a real part of our family, and we continue to support him by paying tuition for him to attend a school in Addis Ababa. His parents have died and he lives with a relative. They are very poor, so now he can receive two hot meals a day and wear a shirt. (And he is SO grateful!) An Ethiopian man in Atlanta, who helped with the transition, and his family, have become close friends of ours, and usually come for a week’s visit every summer. Through Yonas and Henok, we have learned a great deal about another culture, about loving another of God’s creations, and how it really isn’t so hard to do something like we did, and you are doing. I wish you all the best, and I bet you’ll love the experience as we did. God bless you for leaving the decision up to God, and for showing us how He answered your prayers. You are such great examples to all of us!

  46. Lisa V.

    It’s just amazing what you’re doing. May God continue to bless you and your family. I look forward to reading all about this new chapter in your lives. I think you are a strong example to me personally of throwing all your faith and trust in God. I’m in awe when I see that kind of faith in trust in other people. It’s what I continue to reach for daily. Thank you for sharing your life.

  47. Jess

    I’m so happy for your family. What an experience for everyone who will be involved!

  48. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Just wanted to let you know I linked to this in my weekly roundup here. I hope you will be able to share some of your experiences with us!

  49. blog nerd

    unfrigginbelievable. your story never ceases to astound. God Bless on this new turn in your conversion.

  50. angela michelle

    Oh what a beautiful story! I love how you described listening for God’s will for you. We became foster parents about 5 years ago because we came to feel very strongly that it was what God wanted us to do–even though there were lots of reasons to fear. We have had many experiences where God has directed us to the experiences and children we need. So far, we have fostered one little girl who went home and one we adopted. We’re now on the list for one more girl. Good luck!!

  51. Libby

    Thank you for sharing your process of taking each step with God. I've thought about it since I first read it & came back to read through again. I love your insights. And, by the way, thanks for being the tow truck driver for me here. (I think the light bulb is on!)

  52. Gosia

    Goodness, that is just wonderful.

    I’m a long-time reader, and usually just lurk, but couldn’t stay in my shell on reading this!

    I just love seeing where God is taking your family, it’s quite awesome. And that you and your husband actually take the time to discern that call, and then to follow it in trust, is just tremendously inspiring.

    God Bless!

  53. 3 for Me!

    What an amazing opportunity and kudos to you guys for seeking Gid and making provisions to take care of another child this summer. I”m thinking this will be life-changed for BOTH you and “Rita”!

  54. autumnesf

    It's funny how God directs us isn't it?

    Look forward to hearing about your wonderful time. Good luck and lots of fun!


  1. About Kidsave (infopost) : Conversion Diary - [...] people who’d done it in previous years — even though we have four kids under age five. The story…

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