fostering His will

Back in 2006 when we first became foster parents, I was not really sure what to think about what we had just thrown ourselves into.  My husband and I understood the legalities and processes of being foster care parents, but of course, were not as prepared for the emotional and spiritual aspect of it.  I respected and followed the laws regarding reunification, but to be honest, deep down I knew that fostering children would help to fill the hole in my life that had existed due to being barren.

In some respects, it seemed that fostering was a noble cause, while on the other, it also felt like it was more about my needs.  In the end, we hoped to adopt but understood completely that there was no guarantee at all of this.

The same day we were licensed, we received our first placement of a precious little two-day-old baby boy.  We were ecstatic, excited, and nervous at the same time. The few first days with him were just a whirlwind of no sleep, visiting relatives, learning, and joy.  My body was so tired, but my mind was already set on imagining what was to come.  To be honest, I fell in love with him the minute I saw him.

On the Monday following the placement of this sweet little one in our home, the case worker called to establish visits, set up meetings, and to let me know they (the state) were looking into finding relatives.  This conversation was sobering and brought me back to the reality of being a foster care parent.  I was just someone to nourish this child while his birth parents gathered their lives back together.

As I was talking to her on the phone, this innocent little one was quietly sleeping in his crib.  He had no idea of the gravity of the conversation taking place.  His little life and the decisions being made for him were in the hands of the juvenile justice system.  As soon as the phone call ended, I dropped to the floor in front of his crib and immediately began sobbing.

In that moment of complete vulnerability, I started praying “Oh God, Your will not mine, Your will not mine, but if it is Your will for him to stay, Father, then show me the way Lord.  Help me through this.”  I held my hands up to Him as if I was holding this baby up to the Lord.

On my knees with my hands held up high facing this child that I was already passionately in love with was the most remarkable, yet heartbreaking moment of the beginning of my foster care journey.  In that moment, the Lord said to me “Caroline, this is not about you.  This is not about you.”

This was an “aha” moment, or more like an Amen moment.  Fostering this child really was not about me.  I thought going into it that I would be offering a “service” while getting my fill of mommy-moments, and that it would all just be okay.  Looking back, I believe that the Lord was proving Himself by refining me to be a person of less selfish desires and more humility.  This was about this child and his birth parents.  It was about the Lord’s will, not mine.

There were times throughout fostering him that I wondered and fretted over what the future held.  Again though, the Lord reminded me that I just had to act in love.  I had to wake up every day with the intention of being a loving foster parent to this child and of showing mercy to his birth mother.  One foot in front of the other…one day at a time.

Strange as it may sound, fostering a child with whom you would give your life for is like trying to swim in mud.  The more you try, the more energy you exert, and the more love you give, the thicker the mud seems to get.  Fostering this little one was also one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

Daily, the Lord gently reminded me that this journey was not about me, but about His will and His intentions over this child.  He also provided me with moments to walk humbly and act mercifully.  The Lord implored me to show love and to increase my prayer life.

Through prayer I found submission and trust; not just trust of a few of the details, but trusting God with complete wholeness.  His plan for our lives outweighed our intentions and was more powerful than anyone else’s.  My daily prayers for this baby boy included praying steadfastly for the Lord’s will.  They also included asking the Lord to help me put my desires behind and that He would bring clarity and intervention as fitting and according to His plan.

As the case moved along, I found myself more and more in love with the sweet one, but I also found myself caring deeply for his birth mother.  Some people said to me “I don’t know how you do it.”  I know how.  My faith became stronger, my leaning on His wisdom became more pure, and I met the Lord through His continual guidance that the only way to walk this path was with love.

When the case was over, almost two years later, we adopted our sweet boy.  I am so incredibly grateful and keenly aware of this tremendous blessing.  I am even more thankful though that I had to fall on my knees with hands held high, with tears streaming down my cheek, and with a heart of submission declaring “Oh God, Your will, not mine”.

Fostering Hope

Ever wonder what it is like to be without hope?  I don’t mean those momentary spaces in our timelines where we are feeling a little confused about what our next steps are supposed to be.  I mean truly without a sense of hope for the future.  I have talked with far too many young people in foster care who have no hope of a future, family, or anything better for that matter.

This week marked a movement in America called the National Prayer Vigil for Foster Children week.  It is part of recognizing May as the National Foster Care month.  Many churches, citizens, and agencies are spending time focusing on and lifting up children who have been caught up in the system.  These children and youth are victims of their circumstances.  They did not choose the system.  They were forced into it.  Many kiddos across America have been reunified with their parents or family members.  There are also many who have been or are in the process of being adopted.  Still yet, there are thousands who wind up with no family to call their own.

We see the signs everywhere; child abuse cases that shock the most seasoned professionals, newspaper articles displaying the staggering statistics of children in foster care, television reports aiming to try and capture the need for foster families. However do we really stop to think what that means and how it impacts our communities, our state, and our nation? What if there were more homes for children and older youth in this country than there were children actually needing foster care services? What an amazing testimony to the rest of the world that would be! Yet that is not the case. In our blessed land of freedom and opportunity, nearly 130,000 children live each day without a permanent family. This statistic does not, however, represent the entirety of the numbers of children in protective services in theUnited States.

Why is it that the children who fall into the world of foster care tend to be the last thing on people’s minds? As Christians, we are ordained by God to take care of the fatherless. Not every child in care is an “orphan” per se, but nevertheless, their lives are caught up in the turmoil of the poor choices of their parents. It is not uncommon that their parents’ lives were at one time also caught up in the problems of past generations. And so the story goes on….more children aging out of the system without a family to rely on. Often, they have children who end up in the system and the cycle continues. There are generations of families who are at risk for being lost in the midst of abuse, neglect, drug problems, and homelessness.

Thankfully, that is not always the ending of every story. Reunifications with birth parents occur on a regular basis throughout the foster care system. Committed efforts by professionals and birth parents are essential in the reunification process. Foster parents are also key to a positive outcome for foster children. Foster families that are committed to the stated goals of the case, act humbly towards birth parents, mentor, encourage, and pray for the birth parents are (in my opinion) the best representation of loving Christians.

I didn’t set out in this world thinking of working in child welfare or of becoming a foster or adoptive parent.  God sort of just wrote that out for my life.  And I’m so glad He did.  Foster parenting is probably one of the toughest, underappreciated; yet, compelling experiences in life.  Being a case worker is all of these things as well.  Child welfare is a beast of its own and is extremely complex.

One time while visiting with a pre-teen boy in foster care, I asked him “what do you want to do when you grow up?”.  He replied, “I don’t know.  I’ll probably be dead or in jail by the time I’m 21.”  How sad.  This boy had already been in care for several years, parents rights had been terminated, and finding an adoptive home was extremely tough due to some of the behavioral and emotional struggles he was dealing with.  I later learned that he did end up in jail after aging out of the system at 18 years old.  The system offered little hope for him.

Foster families can do more than just house, feed, clothe, and care for kids.  They can encourage them and give them a sense of hope for the future.  Fostering and adoption (if that becomes the goal for the child) can make a generational change in the lives of children.  Not only does can it make a tremendous impact in the lives of foster children, but also potentially in the lives of their future children and families.

I never thought of myself making a generational impact while fostering until I realized that my children’s birth families had struggled with historical cycles of abuse, neglect, and substance abuse.  My heart breaks when I think about what all my children have lost because of these things. I pray my children will never struggle with these issues in their lifetimes.  I know I have done what I can to fervently make a difference in their lives, and will continue to do so.

As Christians we recognize that we too were lost in the sins of the world. We were adopted and redeemed by a loving God. He is committed to us, He encourages us through His word, we should mimic His actions towards others, His humble servitude is written about in the Bible, He hears our prayers and we are given hope that is life-sustaining. Through our adoption by Him, generations of our families have been changed. We can pass down His legacy of love to our children and our children’s children. His sacrifice made an eternal and generational change in humanity.

What if our country looked at fostering the same way? Fostering a child is not just about that one or two children you may take in. The difference foster and adoptive parents make can change the course of generations. I cannot think of a more important and immediate need in our country than Christian families to reach out to the “least of these”. It would be an incredible transformation in our nation if children in the welfare system were loved on, cared for, encouraged, and witnessed to by families.

The overhaul of the system could start with Christian families committing to take a stand for our children in need. Christ took the ultimate stand for us and because of that we can pass on His legacy. Christian families should be doing the same for foster children not because it is the right thing to do, but because we too were lost and then found by a sovereign and humble Heavenly Father. Just imagine what it could mean to the lives of thousands of children and their birth parents if families would love on them, meet their needs, show them grace, and foster hope!