Why You Should Still Do it Even Though It’s Hard…

As a foster and adoptive family, we have heard so many different comments from people regarding our choice to reach out to these vulnerable little ones.

Some of them have been very encouraging and inspiring, and we are thankful to have a great support network of people who are behind us in this venture.

But along with that, I think we have heard every reason in the book why someone might NOT want to adopt or foster.  People seem to think they need to explain to me every reason why they can’t or won’t get involved.  I often stand there quietly, silently struggling for words as they unload on me.  Most of the comments seem to be guilt or fear driven.

“I would get too attached.”

This is the most common statement I hear in regards to foster care, specifically.  I know where this comes from, because I used to say it too.  While I always had myself convinced I could never foster because I would ‘love the child too much to give them back’ I now understand the arrogance and selfishness of that statement.

“Too loving to love” is the idea most people want to convey in this statement.  This is completely unbiblical.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.         (1 Cor. 13)

True love is not based on what may or may not happen.  True love is a choice: to commit, to sacrifice, to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own.  True love rejoices in good things…and healing broken families is certainly a part of that!

Yes, I know…things can go horribly wrong.  You will be working with a broken system and broken families…but that is no excuse!  As a believer in Christ you must believe that God can bring beauty from ashes and is fully in control over all of life’s circumstances.  We will not always understand, but we are commanded to trust and obey.

Many families have walked heartbreaking journeys beside children in their care, and many times things did not turn out as they hoped or planned, but as followers of Christ we need to believe that His purposes will not be thwarted.  We are working for the Potter who can redeem even the most shattered of vessels.

“I have my ‘own’ children to love and care for.”

While I understand our commitment to guide, protect and nurture the children God has placed in our care, I think our idea of what this looks like is often twisted.  There are many children who have been taken all over the world on the mission field, living in less than ideal conditions, being exposed to life threatening illnesses, residing near war zones and being exposed to all kinds of danger physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Is this a reason not to go?  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

I will not pretend to think that every family can easily begin fostering or adopting additional children, but I want to challenge your perceptions and ideas on this.

What is it that you dream of for your children?  Do you dream of health, wealth and happiness…or do you dream of something more?

Do you dream of seeing your children evade the materialism and entitlement so prevalent in our culture today?  Do you dream of them becoming world changers?  Do you dream of them developing a deep compassion for the less fortunate, the marginalized, the oppressed?  Do you dream of them understanding that all we are given is to be used in service for Kingdom Building?

What is more important?  That their personal comforts and privileges are guarded and protected?  Or that they are given opportunities to build character qualities that will prepare them to be used in spreading the gospel?

Yes, you need to keep them safe.

Yes, you need to place them above your own ambitions.

Yes, you need to be prepared and have a plan.

But know this.

If you are called, you will also be equipped.  And it just might surprise you what fruits you see emerge in your children as you serve in this way together.

Oh, and one more thing.  Please don’t use that word…”own.”  It’s time to extend  your borders and start calling someone else your “own.”  Love is a choice.  Choose it.

I am not ‘cut out’ for that.  That takes a special kind of person.

I understand.

I understand what you mean when you say this.  But I can’t help but think it’s a pretty easy way to let yourself off the hook while millions of orphans around the world wait for a select few people to be ‘cut out’ for this job.

What is this job exactly?

This job is parenting.

This job is sharing generously your time and resources.

This job is being willing to love the least of these…with no expectations in return.

This job is caring.

What exactly about this job do you need to be ‘specially equipped’ for?

What about this job is so much harder than any career path or ministry you may pursue?

What about this job does not line up with exactly who Christ asks us to be, and the example He left us to follow?

It’s time to stop waiting to be ‘cut out’ for this job!

It’s time to pray and ask God to equip you for this task!

He can and he will.

Just ask!

“But I’ve heard that…”

Oh the stories!

Everyone has a horror story about adoption, foster care or the local child protection agency.

Are they true?

Some of them, yes.

But please…don’t make your decision based on somebody’s story.

Do the research.

Find out for yourself what you need to know from a reliable source.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

There are always two sides to a story, and the worst stories are only ever one sided.

I believe Satan is using this tactic powerfully to keep people from pursuing foster care or adoption.

I’ve been disappointed at the number of Believers that will gladly join the bandwagon of complaints, criticism and disgust.  This is not helpful.

We need to be wise.

We need to pray for discernment as we engage the world and it’s brokenness.

We need to be prepared to give an answer for what we believe and we need to be firmly rooted in Truth, so that bitter stories and angry rants will not sway us from what we know to be true.

All I ask is that you choose to believe and repeat only things that you know for certain are true and valid.

Horror stories passed on through friends and acquaintances do not fall into this category!

If the story does not honour all involved, including the birth family, adoptive family, children and professionals…please take a deep breath and keep silent.  Try to imagine what the opposite side of the story may be and realize that almost all situations in the foster and adoptive world carry grief, loss and trauma.  They are complicated, sad and easily misunderstood.

God never promised that His plan for our lives would be easy, comfortable or even make sense in our worldly vision.

In fact, He promised the opposite!

Our task here is to daily ‘take up our cross’ and follow him.

Our retirement will come in heaven.

As long as we are here, we are to be busy building his Kingdom, reflecting His character and taking the gospel to the broken.

AF

 

 

 

Broken System

I hear so many people complaining about our social services system.

And I get it.

I do it too!

Right now our local branch is in the middle of a labour disruption and it is holding up the paperwork for our homestudy to be updated so we can pursue another adoption.  I know God uses bureaucracy sometimes to keep things in His timeline, so I’m holding onto that hope but I also see a tainted system where personal agendas and budget cuts are preventing families and children from what is best for them right now.

There are so many things wrong.  Sometimes it feels like the whole system needs to be reorganized and revamped!  Most of the time we are playing catch up instead of preventing problems from arising.

However,

While I am very comfortable complaining alongside other foster and adoptive parents as well as social workers who are frustrated with the handcuffs of this system, I am not okay with people complaining about a system that they are doing nothing to improve.

The bottom line is that the system is in desperate need of more families who are committed to caring for kids, even when it costs them personally.

We need foster parents.

People who are willing to love hard, even when the goodbye is heart wrenching.

People who are willing to fight for families to be reunified if at all possible, putting in their own time and energy to build uncomfortable relationships when needed.

People who will open their doors to kids who push, pull and threaten their way through life because that is the only survival mode they are familiar with.

People who will show Jesus to both these kids and their biological families at some of their most broken and vulnerable moments.

People who will advocate strongly for better lives for these children while realizing that their perspective on the situation may be skewed.

We need people who will follow through and become a child’s permanent family if need be, but are committed first and foremost to reunifying a biological family.

We need adoptive homes.

People who are committed to sticking with a child for EVER.  No matter what.  No ifs, ands, buts.  Just forever period.

People who are willing to go through the paperwork, the scrutiny, the headaches and the waiting time because they know that a child is worth all that times ten!

People who will restructure their lives to meet the needs of a child.

People to rise up and be parents to a lost and broken generation and usher them into the Household of Grace.

People who will believe in a God who redeems even the most broken…and realize that may be you, not the child you adopt.

People who will commit to laughter and joy in the journey, even when it gets hard.

People who will not shy away from the hard in a child’s story, but instead enter into that pain with them.

People who will be willing to enter into relationships today or someday down the road with birth family members.

We need churches, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, teachers and neighbours that are willing to invest in a child’s life.

People that will not jump to hasty conclusions but instead offer grace and support.

People that will lend physical, financial, spiritual and emotional support when serving these kids leaves holes in hearts, homes and wallets.

People who will go the extra mile to make a child feel loved and accepted no matter where they are in life.

People who will pray for children, families and social workers in the system.

The best way to do something about it is to get involved and do your part to change the way things work!  Chances are as you get involved you will see the answers are not as easy as they may have seemed from the outside.

There is no way to evade all the pitfalls when you are working with a broken family in a broken society.

I can’t wait to see the Church of Jesus Christ rise up and take back the work we were meant to do from the beginning.

Love.

Protect.

Heal.

Restore.

AF

 

 

 

Refresh Chicago 2016

My heart is full.

My husband and I travelled to Chicago this past weekend to attend the Refresh Conference.  It’s a conference specifically for Believers involved in foster care and adoption.

The name says it all.

The main goal is to refresh and equip foster and adoptive families while providing space for community to flourish.

I did not know I was starving;

For a glimpse of this part of God’s Kingdom

for encouragement and blessing on this journey

for hope

for the future.

I did not expect the emotions I felt as I stood with over a hundred other people passionate about orphaned and vulnerable children, worshipping together.

The tears caught me off guard as I felt their presence around me,

listened to their words of hope

and saw the same heart in their eyes as I see looking back in the mirror at me every day.

We laughed,

we cried,

we worshipped,

we prayed,

we learned,

we said “me too.”

I went expecting to meet new people, hear their stories and be encouraged.

What I experienced was so much more.

I was spiritually nourished.

I felt like they were speaking my heart language.

My soul rested and I felt this balm just wash over me, knowing that here in this place I did not need to fight or defend.

Here I was understood.

At the end of the weekend we exited through a prayer line.

I walked beside my husband, clenching his hand and feeling the tears sting my eyes as I saw their hands stretched over us and heard their prayers ringing in my ears.

“Patience…bring healing”

“His strength in your weakness”

“power…love…be blessed…”

I didn’t know how much it would mean to have someone praying His Word over me, my husband and our family.

We are not alone.

Thank you

AF

 

A New Home

“I don’t want to live in this house!”

Her brown eyes filled with tears and sobs shook her body as she let the words she’d been holding in all day tumble out into the space between us.

I smiled and tugged her toward me with a sigh.

I knew just how she felt because I was just like her.

No matter how wonderful, change is change.

And it’s hard.

We had been in our new home for almost a week now and it was just starting to sink in that she was never going back to the little nest we were all familiar with.

The chipped paint, the crude treehouse, the scribbles on the wall…all blemishes yet somehow so familiar and comforting at the same time.

So…in that first wonderful, yet awkward and challenging first weeks of living in our new home, here are some things I’ve discovered can help you settle in.

  1. Go places.  Walking back through your front door and knowing you’re “home” helps it feel real.
  2. Bake cookies.  It’ll fill your house with delicious smells and help ease the strangeness of it all.
  3. Burn candles.
  4. Relax and indulge in a bubble bath…even though there are still boxes to unpack.
  5. Have friends over.
  6. Do laundry.  Nothing like piles of laundry sitting all over the house to make it feel like home!
  7. Take time to dream and organize while you unpack.
  8. Get things on the walls.
  9. Relax on the couch.
  10. Read a book.
  11. Put on some music.
  12. Let it get a bit dirty.

So there you have it 🙂

In case you’re wondering we all quickly got past the new and awkward feelings and are enjoying our new home SO much!

The whole experience did remind me, however, of the first weeks our girls were home to us.

The first weeks with our newborn son.

The first weeks when a new child has come to stay in our home.

It reminded me to be compassionate of the tears and tantrums and grief that generally accompany those first months with a new foster or adoptive placement.

They’ve left everything familiar…

and even if what they left was not very nice and maybe not even safe…

it was still home.

It was that  broken light fixture hanging on by a thread.

The sound of the air conditioner starting up.

The dim blue night light in the hall.

The familiar sweet scent of marijuana covering the clothes and blankets pressed close.

The way she always sang in the shower or the clattering of his hands doing dishes in the evening.

The smudged, stained marks on the bath tub and the thickest red towel that was your favourite.

The stuffy you always slept with that somehow got left behind.

Your favourite pants.

The wallpaper coming off around the edge of your bed where you would pick at it as you were going to sleep.

The sound of the TV blaring in the next room when you woke up in the middle of the night.

To some it would look, feel and smell strange and frightening.

But if it’s all you’ve ever known…it feels like home.

It feels like expectations and predictable.

It feels like comfortable.

Think about what it feels like to stay or sleep in a hotel for the night.

No matter how luxurious it may be…there’s usually still a little part of you that wishes for home when you sink onto that mattress.

The bed doesn’t feel right.

The blankets are a different texture.

The bathroom light is too bright and the street lights cast flickering shadows on the wall.

The sound of the furnace is heavy and stifling…you can’t hear the clock ticking like at home.

Now imagine if you hadn’t chosen to be there at all…

or in fact if you didn’t even know WHERE you were!

Terrifying is hardly adequate to describe it.

We expect so much from these little people sometimes.

AF

Ask for Help

Many families go into foster care with the idea that if they do not perform perfectly as foster parents they will not be allowed to foster.  I can easily see how this happens in a system where there are many rules and regulations that need to be followed.  Certainly there are certain rules that, if not followed, will jeopardize one’s role as a foster parent.  Those are clearly laid out, logical and always related to the safety of the child.

However, there are many foster families that worry, even after spending years involved in the system, that they will be removed from their role for any random misdemeanor.

A messy kitchen floor,

a child throwing tantrums in the office in front of ten social workers,

forgetting an appointment or visitation,

a visit to the emergency room after a child falls off a bike or does some other childlike thing,

and maybe most common of all…having to ask for, or obviously needing,

HELP.

I remember our first foster placement.

I was only 23 years old and I had never been a parent before.  I was reminded of this continually and cautiously all throughout our home study process.  It was not in a superior way, just gentle reminders that encouraged me to be open to advice from those around me who were more experienced than I.

Despite that, the first child placed in my arms and my amateur care was a five week old baby struggling with drug withdrawal symptoms who had spent all his little life so far in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

I didn’t know enough to be intimidated, but I did know I had something to prove.

I would have to earn the respect and trust of the doctors and nurses releasing him into my care from their expert hands, the social workers putting me on duty as “foster parent” for the first time, the birth parents of this tiny child and maybe most of all myself.

That placement only lasted a few short weeks, and I came out proud of the way I had handled it and grateful for the knowledge I had acquired.

However, looking back I know for certain even if I had been in way over my head…a phone call to our social worker would have been the last option on my list, and one that terrified me.

Despite the friendly support, gentle guidance and beginnings of a relationship we’d developed through the home study process, I was sure that if I showed any sign of weakness or incompetence I would be deemed unworthy.  Maybe even worse, in my own mind asking for help meant I was somehow not enough…and I desperately wanted to be enough.

Thankfully, God brought me just what I needed.

A child who broke me.

A child who needed more than I had to offer.

Asking for help was no longer optional…and when I finally did…the relief and support and encouragement I received made me realize how proud I had been.  Where I had ever gotten the idea that I alone could be enough I have no idea.  It takes much more than just one person to raise a child, especially a child who has been through the physical and emotional trauma most of these children have endured.  Though motherhood certainly requires us to take on aspects of many roles in life, we will find ourselves discouraged, disillusioned and burnt out if we try to be all things to these little people.

Through the next few years, I had many opportunities to practice asking for help.  It is getting easier, though I still have to fight against the craving to somehow be everything for my children.

In foster care and adoption, especially, I soon discovered I won trust and respect much more quickly when I was willing to learn and admit my own weaknesses or lack of expertise.

When I demonstrated a heart that was open to new ideas, new methods, outside resources when needed, others’ opinions and yes, even breaks at times…the relationships formed became solid and deep.

Now, our resource worker is a person I go to quickly when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged and I know she will see my heart because she’s had many opportunities to learn it.  I know without a doubt in my mind that if I’m feeling tired or needing a break, if I just come and ask for help she will try her best to supply that need.  I also know that using these resources to help me prevents burn out, frustration and actions that I would end up regretting as a mother.

We are stronger when we admit we are not always enough.  There is much to learn in parenting…especially children who’ve experienced trauma and heartache to the measure these kids have.  But there is also much that can be accomplished when we choose to learn what we can, tap into resources and even change our lifestyle to accommodate special needs.

Ironically, I have found in the world of foster care and adoption admitting I alone am not enough makes me less afraid, not more, of new challenges.  It feels less frightening to take on children with challenges such as extreme behavioral difficulties, medical needs, permanent diagnoses, etc when we remember we will not have to do it all alone.

It takes a village to raise a child,

but as a parent I will need to choose to tap into the village.

So if you are new to foster care or adoption…my best advice to you is this.

You don’t need to be a superhero.  Admit you do not know everything and be willing to listen, learn and grow.

Even if you’ve parented for years, there is much you do not know about the children who are about to enter your care.  I can guarantee it.

Take the courses.  I have taken the same attachment course three times now and still I have so much to learn.  Many of these are available for FREE through your local agency.  Ask your social worker.

Read the books.  There are more and more child psychology books available on topics such as attachment, exposure to drugs and alcohol, poverty, domestic violence, anxiety, mental illnesses, etc.

Ask for help.  Friends, family, your social worker, community counselling services, your church, etc.  Explain what you need clearly and humbly.

Ask for advice and opinions of those who have been there.  If you don’t know anyone, find a group online.

Seek out professionals and research.  Family doctors, paediatricians, child psychologists, resources for speech and language, behavioral therapy, etc.

Don’t try to do it alone.

You will become a trusted, respected and humble foster/adoptive parent only to the degree that you are willing to ask for help.

I want to give a special warning to Christian families involved in foster care and adoption here.

While it is certainly true that the Bible is full of advice for parents, please do not reject the knowledge and wisdom you can gain from professionals and public resources and services.  Just because someone is not a believer does not mean they have no insight into your situation.  Emotional and physical abuse and neglect causes changes in the way a child’s brain functions and develops.  Alcohol and drug exposure will do the same.  The life your child has come from may be one you could not even begin to imagine.  Just as you would seek the advice and research of an expert on other topics, you will need it here.  You would not expect a teacher to use only the Bible as a textbook for Math, Language, the Sciences and Arts.  There is much knowledge to be gathered about the human mind.  The pieces you already know and the ones you learn will all come together to give you a greater insight than you can imagine and a greater ability to parent your child successfully and biblically.  Your child’s heart is at stake.  Do not be so arrogant as to believe you hold all the keys.  We have an opportunity to display God’s heart of humility and gentleness toward the professionals we interact with.  The church will be valued as a resource for these children only if we show a willingness to learn.

More than anything…remember that with God all things are possible.

Believe that, and seek His guidance in all that you do.

Pray for your children and your self.

Pray for wisdom to seek the right resources and help for your child.

Pray also that you will have wisdom and discretion when seeking personal friends and confidantes.  A lot of damage can result from sharing too much information with the wrong people.

Seek out a faith family that will encourage and build up your family physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Find at least  one friend that you can tell ANYTHING.

The best, the worst

the triumphs, the failures.

You do not have to be alone in this.

Ask for help.

AF

 

 

 

 

Foster Care

It’s official.

We are back on the “call” list for our local foster care agency.

Any day now we could have another little person walk through our doors and stay for a night, a week, a month, a year…or forever.

We did not predict that we would be ready this quickly.  Less than two years after our daughters’ placement in our home and just over 3 months after our son’s birth, we are jumping back in.

I can see the raised eye brows,

the widening eyes.

I can hear all the questions you are asking.  I’ve asked them too.

I can hear you saying that we have no idea what we’re getting into; that we are putting our children’s lives in jeopardy; that we should draw our limits.

But there’s something you need to know.

We don’t get to choose.

When we dedicated our lives, our home and our family to Jesus Christ, we surrendered the right to choose how, when and what we do as well as the right to follow whatever our feelings dictate.

God has made it very clear to us in the past month that it is time.

It’s time to jump back in.

It’s time to serve.

It’s time to love.

It’s time to once again offer our home and our family as His hands and feet.

And even though it doesn’t make sense; even though we have every reason to say no, I trust Him.

My girls are ecstatic.  Naive, but ecstatic all the same.

They know what it is like to be in foster care.

To feel alone, unwanted, unloved and frightened by life itself.  So their hearts are jumping at the chance to show another child what family can be.

In our home we don’t just play “house” or “dolls”, we play “foster care”, “adoption” and a pretend life that is shadowed with the tragedies most children aren’t yet aware of.  Our dolls have been hurt and abandoned.  Our play phones ring with calls at 2 am from social workers.  Our precious little babies leave us at a moment’s notice and return to biological parents.  They’ve suffered head injuries, malnutrition, long hospitalizations, broken limbs and bruises.  They cry and throw tantrums.

This is our reality.  We’ve been there.  As the kids in care and as the foster parents loving them.

This time around I have battled a lot of intense emotions and fears that I didn’t experience the first time we entered foster care.  Three and a half years ago when we started fostering I was so excited, so confidant and so ready.  This time?  Well, I’m still filled with all those feelings, because God’s been nudging my heart for a while now and preparing me for this.  But I’m also incredibly overwhelmed, exhausted and fearful heading into this new season of our lives, because this time there is so much more at stake.  It feels like there is so much more to lose.

I am keenly and painfully aware that I am throwing my three children into chaos.  Painful, challenging, heartbreaking chaos.

Foster care is no walk in the park.

It’s hard.

It hurts.

It’s intense.

It’s unpredictable.

It takes a lot of time and effort.

The truth is, I don’t want them to have to give up the secure, predictable environment we’ve worked so hard to create in our home for them.  I don’t want them to have to share their clothes, their games, their stuffies, their rooms, their parents and their home.  I hate that this might mean I have less time, less energy and less patience for them.  I don’t like the idea of putting extra strain on our marriage.

I’m afraid I will crash and burn physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I’m afraid I will not be able to be the Mommy, the wife, the home schooling mom or the foster mom that I want to be.

I’m afraid my daughter’s education will suffer.

I’m afraid we will fall back into old patterns and habits that go along with insecurity and change in this home.

I’m afraid I will not get to enjoy my beautiful baby boy the way I want to.

 I’m afraid I will not possibly be able to love another as much as I love these three.

 I’m afraid I will fail.

Miserably.

I am so aware of my own short comings and my own limitations.  In the eyes of the world and all it’s logic we are not prepared!

Yet God says,

“Go.”

While I stumble through the questions and fears in my heart and mind I hear Him say:

“Have you forgotten so quickly who sustains you?

Have you forgotten how small you are?

Are these three precious little people I’ve placed in your home and your life more important than all the rest I have made?

Have you forgotten they all belong to me?

In your weakness, I can best show My strength and glory.

It is not out of confidence, ability, power or strength that you serve.

It is out of gratitude.

Humble gratitude for all I have done for you.”

So what can I say?

To the One who intricately formed each of my children, as well as the child who will walk through our doors next.  To the One who loves them each the same with His everlasting, unbreakable love.

To the One who can give me strength and energy for each long day and night.

To the One who is waiting to pour His love into the gaps my own heart cannot fill.

To the One who has given us everything we have and blessed us with abundantly more than we could ever need or want.

All I can possibly say is YES.

I will go.

I will serve.

I will love.

I have no promises that this will be easy or that we will not have to sacrifice anything dear to us.  In fact, I am quite confidant that it will most definitely be very challenging and that we will have to sacrifice some things that are very dear to us.  But I also know that if He is calling me, He will provide enough for each day and that I would rather live in the center of His will than in my own carefully crafted security bubble.

So are we ready?

No.

We are not ready…and yet…we are more ready than we’ve ever been.

We understand things we never did before.

We have more love to offer in the shape of two young hearts who have gone through their own journeys.  They are so eager to love, and I am humbled by that and reminded what exactly my job as their Mom is.

My job is not to shield them from all hurt…though I wish so much I could.

It is not to give them everything they want, but to have the wisdom to see what they really need and realize that sometimes this includes hardship; hardship that produces character and spiritual maturity.

It is not to make them the center of our home and world, but to point them to Jesus, the One who needs to be the final Voice in all our decisions as a family and the center of our home and our lives.

It is not to teach them to weigh pros and cons, as if life is all just a big game where we are all looking out for ourselves alone…but to teach them that we are here to serve those around us.

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 23:11

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”                Matthew 25:34-36

“And whatsoever you have done to least of these my brethren you have done unto me.”  Matthew 25:40

“”And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”  Matthew 10:42

“In humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phillipians 2:3-4

 

 

 

 

All of Me

It was such a lucky encounter.

There we were, at the library once again for our tutoring session on a perfectly normal Tuesday of the summer.  As usual my daughters headed straight for the back corner for the games and toys.  By the time I caught up to them, there they were sitting on the floor watching a little boy as he raced his cars and trucks around on the floor making appropriate loud vrooming noises.

As I approached, smiling at the man sitting on a chair watching the little boy, my daughter looked at me and said,

“Mommy, who is this?”

She’s very curious about people, especially little people, and since we often run into people I know that she hasn’t been acquainted with yet it’s a somewhat common question.

I responded with a grin toward the man,

“I don’t know!”

Halfway through my answer the man cut in and said the little boy’s name.  My daughters both glanced at me with wide eyes and I stumbled for words, finally blurting out,

“Did you say _______?”

I knelt down on the floor and took a closer look at the little boy my girls were so intrigued with.

Sure enough.

My breath caught in my throat as I stared in disbelief.  Just the right age, just the right eyes and complexion.

Last time I had seen this little boy I was kissing his soft cheeks, caressing that dark hair and fighting back the tears as I buckled him securely into his infant car seat.  I had loved him with a passion I had never known before.  He was the very first child that made me a mother.  The very first child that turned my world upside down.  The only child I’ve ever grieved quite that hard for…simply because I had no former experience to brace me for the goodbye.

For the next hour I watched him play, studying his sturdy toddler movements, his joyful little personality bursting at the seams.  I talked to him, handed him toys and smiled at the sight of my beautiful little girl playing at his side.  The irony was so intriguing…here we were two and a half years later and our lives had traveled such a distance from each other, despite living in the same small town.  When I was able to catch his eyes I saw in them only the reflection of a stranger.  I was a complete stranger to him, and he to me.  Yet at the same time I knew watching him run and laugh and play that I would do absolutely anything in the world for this little boy.  The moment he entered my life, my heart claimed him as my own.  Our time was so short…only 5 weeks…but it was more than enough time to establish a bond strong enough to last eternity.  Every child I have ever cared for has claimed a piece of my heart and in return I have offered each one a vow.

I will love you.

Unconditionally.

For as long as I can,

As well as I can,

No matter the cost to my own heart.

I will fight for you,

And protect you.

I will claim you as my own, and love you without boundaries.

A piece of me will always be yours to keep.

Because I have been so loved,

I will love you.

This is the beat of my heart, and the passion that God has placed within me.  When He called me to serve the least of these, He called me to do it with all of me.  I have struggled at times to keep this vow.

It is hard.

It is messy.

It is scary and vulnerable.

It means holding tight and then surrendering with abandon, believing that God goes with each one even when I can’t.

It means facing the truth, even when the common cliches would be much more comforting.

It means asking hard questions and committing to heavy burdens…but not letting them pull you down.

It means taking one day at a time and believing that now is as important as forever.

It means giving more than you think you have, regardless of the consequences.

My biggest prayer every day that I have been a foster parent has been that I will love every child God places in my care this way.  Why?

Because they deserve it.

Because it is right.

Everything I believe about fostering and adoption has it’s roots in my belief that God is our Creator, and that He delights in each and every person that He creates.  Every little person that has entered my home or ever will has unimaginable value in His eyes.  For me to treat them as any less is horribly wrong.  He loves us regardless of our performance, and gave the greatest He could possibly offer us even though we had done nothing to deserve it.  He takes us as His own and gives us a future and a hope.  He puts everything He has on the line so that we might experience redemption and relationship with Him.  When I realize that He has died for each of these little ones…what else can I possibly consider than to give everything I possibly can for them as well.

Too many children are living in the foster care system believing that somehow they are second rate.  Despite the fact that they have been so wronged in so many ways, most of them believe it is them that are somehow to blame.  Even more horrifying is the fact that the general consensus in society is the same!

Too many foster parents survive the constant change over in kids by holding back pieces of their heart.  Don’t get too attached.  Brace yourself for the goodbye.  Put your own needs and family first.

I get it.

It can be hard and the lines can get pretty gray.

But I also know that a child can absolutely sense those attitudes and they do more damage than you can imagine.  We have a whole generation of teenagers emerging from the foster care system who have never once in their life felt like someone would do whatever it takes.  They know better than anyone that when push comes to shove, foster families will protect their own backs.  They’ve heard all the reasonings and they know what they are…excuses.  The words they hear are:

“You’re too much.”

“It’s too hard.”

“Our own children are more important than you.”

This doesn’t mean that the answers are always the same.  Sometimes loving does mean letting go.  Sometimes loving means drawing some hard lines.  Sometimes loving means realizing this child needs more than I can give.  But too often those kinds of ‘love’ have little to do with what’s best for the child and much to do with what’s best for me.

So I am begging you.

Dare to invest as much in these kids as you’d invest in your biological children…because they are every bit as valuable and every bit as important.

Join me in starting a revolution in the foster care system.  A revolution of Christian families stepping forward to say,

“Yes!  I will love these children with all of me.

My littlest A loves this song by John Legend…it’s a song that takes her back to a familiar place that felt safe, happy, warm…and every time she hears this song on the radio her blue eyes light up with joy.  So I’ve started singing this song to her.  It’s a connection point that reaches her heart.

ALL OF ME

What would I do without your smart mouth
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down
What’s going on in that beautiful mind
I’m on your magical mystery ride
And I’m so dizzy, don’t know what hit me, but I’ll be alright

My head’s underwater
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh
Give me all of you, oh oh

How many times do I have to tell you
Even when you’re crying you’re beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I’m around through every mood
You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing in my head for you
My head’s underwater
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh
Give me all of you, oh oh

Cards on the table, we’re both showing hearts
Risking it all though it’s hard

Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

It’s not the song I would have chosen in my sentimental mind to be the anthem for my baby girl, but she chose it…and really…it’s perfect.  I will always love you, babe.  All the imperfections, in all your mess.  I am so bad at this, and I have no idea how to be everything you need me to be.  But I love you, and I will do my best to give you all of me as you, in all your vulnerability, choose to put your trust in me.  And to all the rest of the kids out there who have taken pieces of my heart…I hope that you grow up to know that at least one person in your life loved you with everything she had!

Walking home that day after our encounter at the library with my baby…yes, my baby…I felt so blessed.  Even though it can be hard to see kids later and face the facts of their life, it’s still an experience that is very meaningful.  Even though this little one I gave everything to just a few short years ago looked at me with no recognition or attachment, it made my day to see him smile.  I delighted in his chubby cheeks that once lay on my chest, the little legs running around that once kicked in distress in his hospital bassinet.  Memories came flooding back, and it was beautiful to relive them.

Thankyou, Jesus, for the gift of that little moment.

Was it a lucky meeting on an ordinary day?

Maybe.

Or maybe it was just a little reminder from my Jesus that He’s right here with me.  His is the passionate heart beating inside of me for these little ones.  His is the vision of a future and hope.  His is the pouring out of all that I am.

It is because I was first loved by Him that I love.

AF