The numbers are staggering. 400,000 children are in the foster care system in the U.S. Well over 100,000 of those are waiting to be adopted, and sadly 32% will have to wait 3 years or MORE to be legally a part of a forever family. I believe that these children are near to the heart of God, and present an awesome opportunity for Christ’s church.
I’ve had a passion for orphan care since being involved in a number of missions trips in high school. It was then with the tugging of the Holy Spirit that I vowed to be some part of the solution to the problem. That commitment made nearly two decades before made taking the leap into becoming a foster parent more than just a save-the-world ego trip. It was a calling. Unbeknownst to me, making that choice would be the beginning of one of the hardest, craziest, busiest, and most rewarding seasons of our life. It’s a good thing I love adventure.
When people hear that we are foster parents, we usually get one of a few responses. The most popular is, “I thought about doing that, but I couldn’t. I would get too attached.” This response is so grieving to my heart. These children need people who are willing to love deeply. They need to feel attached to someone. They need to be part of a family. Mostly, they need to know the love of the Father. Someone saying that they can’t represent Jesus to a young child who has seen love all wrong isn’t about the children in foster care at all. It’s still mostly about you. I’m not saying everyone is called to be a family to foster children, but the reason is not because *their* heart would “break.”
We have had 11 placements in our home since becoming licensed. These children have ranged in age from one month old to 17 years old. We have dealt with everything from feeding tubes, week (or two…or three…) long hospital visits, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, regular old therapy… Sadly this is pretty common. We’ve had children scratch, punch, and claw us, threaten to throw rocks at us, turn rooms upside down… Like I said, adventure! We have also been able to have conversations with kids that opened a door to share the heart of God that they may never experience in that way again.
Our first placement was a precious 6 week old baby girl. I will never forget the call that came in the middle of the night. I remember rushing to the basement to find the things we would need immediately to care for her. She came to us with red dots on her eyes from the blood being forced there when her father strangled her. It’s so hard to imagine something so horrific being done to a sweet and beautiful little baby girl. She was sent to be with family after being with us for a month.We were able to receive texts with pictures from time to time letting us know how she was doing.
This first experience opened our eyes to a few things.
1. Even after hearing some of the crazy stories of foster care, nothing could prepare my heart for what would come through the door.
2. Foster care is not for the faint of heart.
3. Practically speaking, foster care involves a lot of appointments and paperwork (even if your child is healthy).
Just a few days after our first placement was moved we received a call. Sibling group of three. No one would take them. We were out of state on a family vacation in New Mexico, but they would have someone take care of them until we made it back into town. After every “yes” we give for a placement, I always experience anxiety. Like I said, you never know who it is coming into your home. This time I had an entire day to let that anxiety build. Three kiddos ages 7,6, and 6 weeks would be coming. This placement was our most challenging. They had suffered neglect. The 6 year old girl had 4 rounds of lice that first couple weeks. The oldest boy was violent towards the other kids and had to be moved. The older two ended up being moved out of state to be with their biological father fairly quickly. The youngest, baby “D” stayed with us. The baby was with us for over a year, and ended up being moved to his biological father. That placement was the most heartbreaking for me. The father had steered clear of the whole case, until at least six months in. Then he decided he would try to get custody. It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to this baby that we had raised for his first year of life. We took comfort in knowing that he was in the Lord’s hands, and that he had experienced a safe and loving environment. This placement taught us a few things along the way.
4. Foster care requires you to love a child your best knowing often times you will get nothing in return. (Meaning: that “*I* saved a child” feeling you may be hoping for, will not come).
5. Self-care. That’s a thing.
6. The system is broken.
During the year that baby D was with us, we also were home to two amazing teenage girls, two month old twin baby boys (one of whom came to us with a broken leg, and a swollen head from shaken baby syndrome), and a baby boy with severe complications from fetal alcohol syndrome. This little guy was nearly a year and weighed less than 12 pounds. He simply had no desire to eat. After lots of therapy, hospital visits, therapy, and calorie boosting additives we were still only able to see a tiny bit of progress in his weight gain. He was an incredibly happy boy with a dedicated father doing all that he could to get his son back. He ended up needing a feeding tube which meant we had to learn to insert it through his nose and into his stomach. It’s funny how when in these situations, you just do what you have to do, but as I look back, it seems like a bigger deal to learn to care for a medically fragile baby. I had spent weeks at a time in the hospital with our first baby boy, so I feel like I was able to take baby steps into caring for medical needs as they arose.
After he was able to return home, we were determined to take a break. I was ready. I knew I could do it. I could say “no” when they called with a child who needed a home. I think we took a break for a month before we got the call about Lilianna. It was her second time to be removed from home, and they had little hope that the mom would be able to pull it together. I called Seth and told him I wanted to say yes. As usual, he wasn’t going to stop me. Lilianna has been with us nearly a year, and quite honestly, she has been the most challenging placement for us. I think this is partly because she is two, partly because of the trauma she has experienced, and partly because we moved and had a baby this past year too. She is hungry for consistent love and stability just as most children in foster care do. We have seen ups and downs with her, and look forward to the day when the challenges she has had to face as a tiny little girl are just a distant memory. I know there will be a day when I will look at a confident young lady who knows she’s loved, knows who she is, and who is full of hopes and dreams. For now, we will walk with through the rough times because she’s worth it, and because we know that it’s what God has called us to do. That is our journey so far. Other things we have learned:
7. With God we can do more than we think.
8. We can’t be stretched unless we step away from comfort.
9. God is near to the brokenhearted.
I would encourage you to take a minute to ask the Lord what your involvement is to be. Maybe he is asking you to take a leap into the great adventure of fostering. Maybe you can support a foster family by offering some of your time (Fostering Hope is a great organization for that). Whatever He says, jump! There are always so many reasons NOT to, but trust His leading. The blessings are greater than the challenges. If you have questions, or are interested in taking the next steps, feel free to message me. If you are in the Colorado Springs or Denver area, you can check out http://www.Hopeandhome.org .
*Update: since this post was written, we have been able to adopt, Lilianna, and are fostering a fun little 1 year old boy. His future is still unknown, but we will love him as long as we can.