The Dentons’ Story
“God’s word is really clear when it says to care for the orphans, and we are doing that. There’s a real satisfaction in that,” Rick told me with conviction. “What makes foster care worth it? Simply knowing that we are being obedient to God. There is absolutely no confusion about what we should do.”
As foster parents, Rick and Niki Denton have adopted or fostered nine children in the past six years. Their story is an inspiring expression of what it means to live with a love that is greater than all fear. For both the foster children and their birth families, the Dentons have powerfully displayed God’s love through their devoted and sacrificial care for these precious, yet often forgotten, children.
Adoption was always an idea in the back of the Dentons’ minds, but it was thrust to the forefront when they found out that they couldn’t have kids on their own. Adoption was something Rick and Niki had discussed prior to getting married, but it was something they thought would happen after they were birth parents first. God’s plan for them as adoptive parents was more accelerated, and they quickly decided to adopt a child. The Dentons adopted Genevieve as their first child, prior to becoming involved in the foster care system.
After moving from California to East Tennessee, the Dentons debated whether they wanted to become foster parents or continue to pursue adoption. They ultimately felt God calling them to become foster parents. As Rick said, “We felt God lead us to foster, partly because these are kids who are already born and don’t have a home, as opposed to a birth mom who is looking for someone to adopt her children. [Foster kids] are less likely to have a real home.”
Shortly after deciding this, God placed a child in need in their path.
“A family friend found out about us doing that and that’s how we found out about Jonas, who was in the hospital at the time. They were looking for a family for him, so we said, ‘yes.’ We learned that God was not calling us just to adopt a kid, but God was leading us to care for a kid for however long he wants us to.”
Eventually, the Dentons were actually able to adopt Jonas as their second adopted child. By staying open to God’s plan and taking care of his children for as long as he calls them to, the Dentons have adopted three children and fostered five others who have gone back to their other homes.
As with many things that God calls us to do, foster care is no simple task. It’s so easy to let fear consume you as a foster parent. There are a lot of unknowns and much sacrifice is involved. It’s not hard to ignore the call to be involved in foster care because of the daunting nature of the task. The Dentons have experienced firsthand the fear that all foster parents inevitably feel.
“There’s fear of the baggage the kids bring. There are just a lot of unknowns,” Rick said. “If they’re a crack baby, heroin baby, alcohol baby–there’s just a fear about how this child might be. Are they going to be screaming through the night? And while we want to be parents to these children, we want to protect our children too. So we have to think about how these kids will treat our kids.”
One of the Dentons’ foster children came to them as a baby with three broken bones. For their own children, Genevieve, Jonas, and their third adopted child, Abigail, this foster child became their little sister over the year that she was with the Dentons.
“She became ours,” Rick told me, “But when it came time for her to return to her birth mom, we wondered how it would affect our kids. There was a lot of emotional baggage with that. They were dealing with loss and being exposed to something that most kids don’t get exposed to.”
Despite the fears that come with taking on a foster child, the Dentons shared that the most frightening aspect of foster care is the fear for the children who have to be returned. Rick talked about how scary it is not to know what the kids are going back to. There is always a possibility that the kids will be put back in the system, maybe going to a bad foster family. Most importantly, Rick pointed out that his biggest fear is that they won’t be exposed to the gospel anymore.
“By adopting kids we bring them into the kingdom. There are fears that when they go back they might not hear the true Gospel,” he said. “I can’t correct false doctrine for them; I can’t teach them about the Gospel anymore. So there’s all the fear associated with that, which is a really big thing for me.”
While the fears of being a foster parent are huge, love, both for God and for the foster children, is more than enough to overcome those fears. Rick said that they can’t allow fear to drive them, because God tells us that perfect love casts out fear.
“Francis Chan has a great chapter in his book Forgotten God, about how we don’t do anything until God tells us specifically what his will for our life is. It’s a fear of failure of getting it wrong, but it’s also a fear of getting it right and having God have us do something we are not comfortable with, that keeps us from following God’s plan.” Rick further explained, “But if I’m loving Christ, then I need to listen to him and the Holy Spirit and do what he asks me to do. If I’m in Christ, I’m going to do what I want to do anyway, because if I’m in Christ, the things I’m going to want to do are the things God wants me to do.”
What is most touching about the Dentons’ story is the way that God has worked through Rick and Niki to restore the birth families of their foster children. With both Abigail, their youngest adopted daughter, and Amare, who has returned to her birth mom, the Dentons were able to reach out to the foster girls’ birth mothers and show them the Gospel.
This is such an incredible example of having a love that is greater than fear. The Dentons’ grieve the departure of any of the children they’ve been entrusted to care for, but by reaching out and helping the birth parents, the Dentons are greatly increasing the possibility of that happening. Despite this knowledge, they have made a point to show Christ’s love to the birth families, because it is what Christ has called them to do.
By assisting the birth mother and showing her the love of Christ, when it came time for Abigail to return, she actually asked the Dentons to adopt Abigail.
Through seeing that the Dentons had become Abigail’s family, her birth mom realized that it was best for her to remain in the positive, loving environment they had for her. Instead of the birth mom being bitter towards the Dentons and the process, she was actually able to deal with the situation and make a mature decision. There is healing and growth in that process, tough as it may be. The Dentons now maintain a positive relationship with her that never would have been possible had they not reached out and showed her Christ’s love.
Another example of God’s restoration through the foster care process comes with the story of Amare. Amare came to the Dentons as a baby who had severe, abuse-related injuries, including three broken bones. They immediately thought that the mother had to have known what was going on with Amare, and they didn’t want for her to return to that environment. It turned out that Amare’s birth mother actually wasn’t aware of the injuries. When she had suspected something was wrong, she took Amare to the doctor; but the doctors somehow missed her injuries. The Dentons didn’t realize this at the time, however, and could have easily written her off. After a time of resenting the birth mother, they decided that they still needed to share Christ with her, despite what they thought at the time of her. Incredibly, through sharing Christ’s love, Amare’s mother was restored in the church and in her relationship with God. The Dentons also realized that she hadn’t been aware of Amare’s injuries.
The Dentons soon realized that Tanya was a great mom and that any concerns they may have had about her were unfounded. Eventually, Amare was given back to her birth mother, Tanya, and, thanks in large part to the Denton’s witness and love, Tanya and Amare’s situation is now a healthy one, both physically and spiritually.
“It’s important for us to remember that it’s our job to witness to these families. We have to remind ourselves, ‘Are we really showing Christ, or are we just going through the motions?’ Getting to bring these families towards Christ makes it worth it for us. If we can play a part in making them better parents, that’s a great thing too.”
Why be a Foster Parent?
“The point blank thing is to ask what has God called us to do. It’s an easy cop-out to say God has gifted us in other areas, but then you have to ask yourself, ‘are you actually using those gifts?’ God never said only the people with the gift of evangelism need to share the gospel, or only the people who are good with kids need to help the orphans,” Rick said. “While you may not think you’re called to be a foster parent, you may be called to supporting the agencies in other ways. If you think you’re called, then I always tell people to talk to someone that’s done it. Foster care is one of those things that the only time it shows up in the media is for bad things. Ultimately, I think you have to try it out. If it’s not what God wants, then he will let us know.”
But it isn’t always easy. God has clearly called his people to care for the widows and orphans, so it’s not a matter of if God wants you to care for them. Really, the challenge is to overcome fear and be willing to sacrifice in order to show God’s love to “the least of these.”
“I tell new families to be careful when listening to the horror stories, but even then I’m not sure if God calls us to anything that’s easy,” Rick pointed out. “One of the fears is that a kid could come in with fetal alcohol syndrome or something like that. But, I mean, we have crazy uncles. The odds don’t change when you bring a kid in as opposed to having your own. Ultimately God’s the one that’s in charge of that too.”
The Language of Love
“Being foster and adoptive parents has really taught us how God has loved us. God uses adoption language with us. He chooses to love us–even though we are unlovable– he still chooses to love us. God only becomes our father through Christ,” Rick explained. “With the kids that we have adopted, we don’t have to say ‘yes’ to that phone call. We can tell the kids we have that we have chosen to love you. We can say that we love you, but we don’t have to love you. We’ve chosen to love you and that means more. The fact that God’s love for us is something that he chooses to do means that we are able to have a greater understanding of God’s love for us, being foster parents. God chooses to love us in the same way we choose to love our kids. It’s such a unique sort of love.”
Will You Show Your Love?
If you feel led to explore foster care or adoption in order to show God’s love to the unloved in our society, please don’t hesitate. God calls us to take care of those in need. As Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If you’re not capable of financially supporting a foster agency or becoming a foster parent, please consider becoming a mentor to these children in need. Feel free to contact us at lovegreater.org for more information on how to get involved or click on one of the links below:
(The Dentons are foster parents through the state system of the Department of Children Services)