Following the Unplanned Course
Tiffany Wood began to cry when she heard the radio announcement. Her husband, George Paul Wood, pulled the car over and asked what troubled her. As a newcomer to the Bible Belt, Tiffany couldn’t comprehend the statistic just reported: Their new home — Greene County, Missouri — had a higher number of children in foster care than any of the other 113 counties in the Show Me State.
Tiffany had moved from Southern California — where she never lived more than 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean — to Springfield, nearly the geographic middle of the U.S. George Paul and Tiffany met in their 30s, married, and began pastoring in Santa Barbara. In 2008, the couple had a son, Reese. Then George Paul came to work at the Assemblies of God national office, where he is executive editor of Influence, the Fellowship’s publication for ministry leaders.
But in 2010, she vividly remembers a radio announcer rattling off grim news about foster care in Greene County. Tiffany knew she needed to do something.
Tiffany, who held an MBA from Pepperdine University and had worked for large law firms in downtown Los Angeles, became a Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer to provide opinions to courts about foster care cases.
“I had turned 40, and was a happy mother — but sometimes felt I needed to ‘apologize’ for only having one child,” Tiffany says. While others commended her for being a good mom, her doctor advised against giving birth to another child. She realized a door had opened to become a foster parent.
With Reese nearly 5, George Paul and Tiffany received a license to foster in their home, telling state workers they would prefer potty-trained boys. In December 2014, a foster care agency requested that the couple consider taking two little girls — both still in diapers.
Tiffany told George maybe the Lord wanted to stretch them. After all, they didn’t agree to become foster parents to be comfortable. The Wood home now had Allison, a 2-month-old, 6-pound blonde with icy blue eyes, plus nonverbal 19-month-old Cynthia, who had suffered neglect. Friends donated clothes and car seats.
“In my arrogance and pride I thought, ‘I can do all things . . . through myself!” Tiffany recalls. “But that’s not how that Scripture reads!” Tiffany appreciated her husband, who although he sensed no real call to foster parenting, nonetheless supported Tiffany following the biblical injunction to care for orphans.
Tiffany struggled with anger toward the girls’ parents. When a judge gave the birth parents more time to shape up, Tiffany initially felt incredulous. Then, tempered by her husband, she agreed to trust God — and to work with the biological parents to ensure that the girls returned to a safe home environment. The purpose of foster care is to create a temporary reprieve for a family struggling to survive. The goal always is to try to return the children to their biological parents. In July 2015, the family reunited.
When the two little girls went back to their birth mother after 20 months in foster care, George Paul and Tiffany rejoiced that the family of origin had been restored.
However, as they prepared for other foster children, Tiffany received another call from a social worker — who requested bringing the same two girls back.
“The mom had messed up,” Tiffany says. “It wasn’t what we had prayed for. We were broken.”
Although they didn’t anticipate this journey to be permanent, in December 2016, George Paul and Tiffany adopted the girls.
This experience has changed Tiffany’s perspective on faith, and her love for children.
“When foster care results in an adoption, it is a recognition that a family in social distress has failed to be rehabilitated,” says Tiffany.
Tiffany understands that many prospective foster parents want children in their homes permanently.
“It is natural to want to adopt a child, but adoption is not always in the best interest of the child,” Tiffany says. “We need more foster parents who can understand this, and still decide to foster children, knowing that they may have to sacrifice their desires to permanently care for children they have grown to love.”