The Messy Stuff

Posted Oct 18, 2011 by 8 Comments

I’ve spent time diving into what Safe Families is all about—how they work, the people involved and what goes on inside the home of a volunteer family. But what happens next? What happens when a child returns home and the relationship between the Safe Family and the biological family is officially over?

Well, it turns out there’s no expiration date on that relationship. In the case of the Ray family, taking care of a child through Safe Families initiated an unanticipated bond between two families that persists today.


The journey of Cheri and Jason Ray began in a manner no different than many volunteer host families for Safe Families. They heard about the organization through friends at church but had reservations. Cheri feared the pain of welcoming a child into their lives, bonding and then having to give him or her back to the biological family.

Luckily, the Ray’s teenage daughter, Hannah, didn’t give in to her mother’s hesitation. Hannah urged her parents to join the Safe Families network and proceeded to guide them through the online training. Within weeks, the Rays became a certified Safe Family.

Cheri and Jason with a picture of baby Micah

“God loves hearing us say ‘I can’t, or I could never…,’” reflects Cheri on the family’s initial hesitation. “It gives Him the chance to show us what He’s capable of doing through us.”

In this case, God chose Micah to teach that lesson. Micah—a five-week-old baby boy—bridged the worlds of two very different families.

Part of the Family

I sat down in a cozy family room across from Cheri and Jason with many questions floating around my head. Here sat two people who formed a supportive, loving relationship not just with a child they had welcomed into their home, but with his entire family as well.

The idea is beautiful in theory, but when I think about the particulars of what it means to love a family in crisis it just seems messy.

Cheri and Jason admitted they felt comfortable taking in baby Micah in January because Safe Families had specified an “end date” to the placement. The Rays learned that Micah’s mom, Shameka, was a single mom, struggling with post-partum depression. She desperately needed a break from raising her eight children alone, so Safe Families placed them with different host families for four weeks.

The Ray’s house, north of Indianapolis

But during that time, a relationship took root between the Rays and Micah’s family. Cheri talked to Shameka on the phone every day, giving her updates on baby Micah. The conversations became more and more personal as Cheri learned more about Shameka and her family.

And of course, the whole family fell for beautiful baby Micah. Jason and Cheri couldn’t help but light up as they talked about this little guy. By the end of four weeks, Micah was a part of the Ray family.

No Easy Fix

Micah went home, but Shameka and Cheri kept in contact. The Ray family regularly visited Shameka and her children, and Micah came back to stay with the Ray family on and off as needed. The Rays found themselves falling not only for Micah, but for Shameka and the entire family.

The friendship isn’t always easy. Jason and Cheri are learning the frustrating details of what it means to live in poverty.

Baby Micah (Photo from Cheri)

“It’s a sadly vicious cycle,” Jason concedes. “It just seems like there’s so much need out there!”

“It almost gets to the point where it’s like, ‘Are we making a difference?’” echoes Cheri. “I mean, I know we are, but you kind of look at it and want to jump in there and just fix it. We want to grab them out of the inner city…but we don’t think it’s God’s plan for us to rescue them. It’s trying to figure out how to equip her with the tools for life and not just run in there and throw a band aid on it to fix it.”

Cheri and Jason focus on loving Shameka and her family, and from that, they’ve found instances when helping is appropriate. A few months back, Shameka mentioned some problems around her home, so Jason pointed out that these were things a landlord should deal with and accompanied Shameka to talk with him. Jason and Cheri also put Shameka in contact with a job placement agency which helped her secure work.


The walk alongside Shameka moves at an inconsistent pace and sometimes takes unexpected turns, but it continues to enrich both families.

The Ray’s refrigerator with pictures of Micah, his family, and other children who have stayed with the Ray’s through Safe Families.

“We’re getting as much out of it (as Micah’s family), if not more,” Jason admits.

Cheri and Jason encourage others to become Safe Families, even though it’s not always easy. They explain that their own kids, Mitchell and Hannah, have benefitted from the opportunity to look outside of themselves and their own lives.The Rays also advise Safe Families to enter the experience with an open mind.

“From the outside looking in, somebody might say, ‘Why does she have eight kids? She should be responsible,’” explains Cheri. “But if you look into her story, it gives you compassion…events in their life brought them to where they are.”

Reckless Love

So what’s the secret to easing through the Safe Families process unscathed? There isn’t one. Opening your home to a child may just be the gateway to falling in love with a family in need. And it can be messy.

It’s messy like God’s choice to love us despite our screw-ups is messy.

We certainly don’t love each other with as much grace as God, but we can choose to fill our lives with relationships that teach us about persistent, imperfect, infectious love. God can work with that. In fact, I think it’s the most revolutionary tool God has for healing our communities and our world.

Cheri, Jason and Shameka with some of her children (Photo from Cheri)

“I was hesitant in telling our story…because it’s not about us.  It’s not about what we did for (Shameka) or what we did for Micah.” Cheri concludes. “It’s all about God and what he is doing in her life and in our lives.

“Several people have said to me, ‘You’re such a blessing to Micah and his family.’ But the truth is that blessings go both ways and there has been so much blessing on our end:  The blessing of getting to love on an adorable precious boy, the blessing of getting to see God working and providing second chances through us, and lastly the blessing of having our lives intertwined with Micah’s family and to feel a love for them and from them that we never expected.”

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Next Steps
    • Have you thought about becoming a Safe Family? No time like the present! Go to to sign up TODAY!
    • Pray for the work of Safe Families. Pray for the employees, the volunteers and the biological families that are struggling right now.
    • Think it’s easy living in poverty in the U.S.? Go to and see how you do!
    • Thank God for the messy relationships in your life—they bless us more than we give them credit for.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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  1. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 4:32 am  

    Holy cow. What an incredible story! And what an amazing testament to how powerful Safe Families can be on BOTH ends of the spectrum. Great article, Laura!

  2. Amy Sorrells said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 7:38 am  

    Three things really buckled me that you say in this article, Laura. First, “there’s no expiration date on that relationship.” Second, “It’s messy like God’s choice to love us despite our screw-ups is messy.” And third, “It’s messy like God’s choice to love us despite our screw-ups is messy.”

    Sometimes it seems like everything’s messy and keeps getting messier. But seeing God break into the messy and work with it, indeed breathe life into it, brings a whole mess of hope. God bless Shamika, Micah, the Ray’s and Safe Families.

    And God help us all dare to dive into the mess!

  3. Jo Nading said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 7:41 am  

    Wonderful, wonderful story. I am always excited to read your articles on Safe Families. Amazing people answering the call. God bless them and everyone who is touched. Thank you for bringing so much to light.

  4. Breanna Sipple said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 8:39 am  

    Thank you for sharing their story. I love reading how when we open our doors (to our homes, to our hearts, and to God) and let God work through and in us, an amazing story of love is able to flow through. I’m sure both families will be forever effected by what God has done through this.

  5. Lisa Miller said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 8:47 am  

    Loved this story. Life-changing for all and so inspirational. I can’t imagine a more loving environment than in the Rays’ home! Thanks for this one!

  6. Laura Stump said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 10:26 am  

    Barry, Jo and Breanna: It is a great demonstration of the two-way nature of Safe Families relationships–a reminder that there shouldn’t be a clear “giver” and “receiver”.

    Amy: So true–the messy is where we belong, even though it looks intimidating from the outside. Choosing to engage with it is a whole new form of relying on God.

    Lisa: Thanks. You so right–everything about the Rays is welcoming! I’m glad they’re in the Safe Families network :)

  7. Leslee said... 


    October 18th, 2011 at 2:20 pm  

    LOVED everything on Safe Families. I laughed, I cried, it was beautiful :) Thanks for taking the time to help people understand what an incredible ministry this is!

  8. Laura Stump said... 


    October 25th, 2011 at 2:39 pm  

    No problem, Leslee! I barely scratched the surface on all of the amazing stuff going on here. Thank you to YOU for being a volunteer with this incredible organization.

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