foster care, Orphanprevention, parenting resources

Bittersweet Goodbyes

“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Foster care, adoption, biological parenting are very different, yet very much the same. Any and every form of parenting is hard work. Parenting is sacrificial. Parenting is temporary. Period.

I have previously mentioned the “shock” of parenthood we felt the first couple of days with our foster children. I have many friends with new born babies and teenagers who experience the very same “shock” in almost every new season of life. Every season of life has difficulties and joys whether it is a season of childhood, singleness, career, marriage, parenthood, etc.

In the blink of an eye, seasons come and seasons go [time tends to speed up the older you become, or so it seems]. Some seasons of life appear all too short, while other seasons feel as though to last f-o-r-e-v-e-r. In reality, regardless of the number of days allotted to a specific season of life, all seasons are just that: seasons. Every season has a beginning and an ending accompanied by a beautiful and/or challenging in between period. In light of our unfathomable eternity, seasons come and go before we even understand all that was lost or gained in that given time.

The beautiful bitter sweetness of seasons is that these periods of time are ever-changing. Understanding this truth makes living in the current season that much sweeter, as well as, making the exiting of the season sometimes quite painful. As we grow and change in this brief lifetime, seasons will come and go along with the people and experiences of each moment. Although a season will not last forever, the experiences and transformations to which a season impacted our lives will resonant throughout eternity.

Foster care is a more “evident” temporary lifestyle, because the goal of foster care is the reunification of the family unit. Restoration is truly our hearts’ desire. This does not mean that the ending of a season with our foster children is painless. There is grief that comes when parting with a child you have grown to love and cherish as your own. I do not want to belittle this “bittersweet pain” in any way. Jesus is with us at this very moment. We choose joy because we are not “losing” these children. We choose to view reunification as a means of celebration. God is in the business of restoration and we want to help others pursue this in any way possible. Not every situation will be joyful. There are definitely situations of reunification that foster parents must cling to the power of God’s sovereign goodness even in the bleakest of situations. Every reunification situation will be unique.

In our current situation, our foster children are being reunited with wonderful family members who we pray will continue to care and love them as we have. We are celebrating that the Lord has allowed us the opportunity to “stand in the gap” for these precious children. We are celebrating all that He has accomplished in our hearts during our time together as a family. We are celebrating that although we may no longer hold these sweet kids in our care, we now have the ability to become nurturing influencers in another child’s life. We are celebrating that our current foster children have gained a safe environment with loving family members. As we process this change in season, we are reminded of the reality that there are so many children in need of Gospel-love. We want to open our arms even wider to receive whomever the Lord intends to give us on this journey.

However, I do want to say to our friends and family please understand that comments such as “well, this is good practice for your own kids one day,” or “I could never do that because I would be too attached to the children,” do not ease our pain in any way. Firstly, these were our children. We are real parents, just like you! We feel all of the same joys and struggles that you feel as a parent. This is not a trial run. This is the real deal just in a very brief season of life. Secondly, I want to encourage you to never limit God’s plans for your life with walls of fear, safety, and comfort. We are attached. Yes, it’s very painful to part with these children we love dearly. I understand that not everyone is called to become foster parents, but to our friends and family, I can testify to you that there is nothing special about us that makes us able to handle this pain more easily than anyone else. God’s grace is sufficient for all. In every circumstance, we can trust that He will provide the grace needed to endure and even embrace His will for our lives.

In this moment of pain and joy, I am clinging to the verse, “Jesus came not to be served but to serve.” We want to exhibit this characteristic of Jesus’s humility as much as possible in this circumstance. Like all parents, we were given an opportunity to selflessly love and nurture two sweet little babies in a traumatic time of need. Just like all parents, we were not guaranteed a certain number of days with our children. The Lord gave us time as a gift to steward with the help of His Spirit in our lives. Just like all parents, we loved sacrificially with little to no thankful understanding from our children. Just like all parents, there were challenges and joys. Just like all parents, our time of parenting was temporary.

With the reality of this truth, I ask myself and I would ask you the same questions, “How are we investing the time we have been given with our children (spouse, co-workers, friends, and neighbors)?” “If we made a pie chart of our time, what would fill up the most space? Business and activities, social media and ESPN, or family devotionals?” “How much of our time is spent for the Gospel pointing others to Jesus and making disciples?” Through our experience with this sudden change in season, I want to gently but boldly encourage you to invest your time wisely.

“Time is precious. We are fragile. Life is short. Eternity is long. Every minute counts. Oh, to be a faithful steward of the breath God has given me.” – John Piper, Life as a Vapor

“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is as nothing before You. Everyone is but a breath even those who seem secure.” Psalm 39:4-5

“What is your life? You are a midst that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesian 5:15

“Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed [or ransomed] with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as a Lamb
unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” 1 Peter 1:17-19

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foster care, orphancare, parenting resources

One Night of Childhood

She will always have a special place in our hearts. “B” (11 year old girl) was our very first foster care placement. We had received a call around 3:00pm about a child who needed a temporary home to care for her until her more permanent home was ready to receive her. This type of foster care placement is called respite care. Respite care is a very temporary stay (just a few of days). This a great way to care for children in need of a home if a longer “commitment” of time is a hindrance to you. IMPACT training classes are required to be certified for respite care, but it is totally worth the effort!

We were told she had been in and out of the foster care system at least 3 times. Because of this constant transition, she had previously exhibited behaviors that were challenging. Empathy is the key here. To be taken from your mother who is loved dearly three different times and placed in three different homes each time is not a normal childhood by any means. I cannot imagine the pain of loss this child has experienced in such a short amount of time.

As the car pulled into the driveway, Gabe and I said a prayer together blessing our home and our time with her. We opened the door to see a young girl carrying one bag of clothes and a bookbag. We awkwardly hugged and introduced ourselves. As we went inside, she immediately picked out “her” room. She then commented on our Christmas tree saying, “I love Christmas. I like this tree. My mother could not afford a tree this year.” We sat down on the couch with caseworker as she explained B’s story a little more. We talked about medicine, school routines, and food allergies. I will admit it was a lot to take in and I was getting overwhelmed thinking about the responsibility of caring for this child. Just as my eyes began to glaze over and I was beginning to become flustered, the verse “My grace is sufficient for you” washed over my mind. Praise God that my capability comes from the promise of His grace in my life.

Once the social worker left, B opened up and began chatting with us about everything under the sun. She was not shy and we were slightly surprised to see how well-behaved and polite she was acting. We went out to eat pizza, watched “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II,” and drank hot chocolate. It was such a fun night together!

We were under the impression that she would be with us for at least a week. However, late that night we received a call that she would be leaving at 7:00am the very next morning for her new permanent home. We chose not to tell her until we woke her up the next morning. We wanted the one night we had with her to be very special for her. We wanted to pour our love out for her and give her a night of normal childhood!

This may seem romanticized; it truly was a great night. Having the opportunity to give a child something every child deserves: love is very fulfilling. But, I must be honest about something that is not a romantically portrayed image of foster care. The sinful nature, that is, my pride. As we were eating dinner I realized an emotion in my heart that I am ashamed to admit. I felt a certain insecurity; I felt pride. As we sat with a child who was obviously much older than our marriage I thought to myself, “What are people thinking about us right now? Are they judging this situation? Do they think that because of her appearance and behaviors that we have failed to care for this child?” This placement was not the cookie cutter family portrait. This was not a cute little baby. B was a young girl with poor hygiene and special needs who was in desperate need of love and care. These terribly honest thoughts were a revelation of sin in my heart that the Lord needed to chip away and He did later that night.

As we were driving home from eating pizza, B began to make up a song and sing it quietly in the back seat. These were the exact words that she sang to herself just loud enough for us to hear, “Jesus loves all of the children. Jesus loves every boy and girl. He cares about every child. Jesus loves me. He died on the cross for my sins. We believe in Him. We are His princesses and His princes. Jesus loves every child.” Tears streaming down my face, I humbly thanked the Lord for this beautiful reminder given through this beautiful soul. We rejoiced when hearing of B’s childlike faith.

I share this with you because I think there is a tendency to think that we are “saviors” because we have chosen to care for orphaned children and children in need of a temporary home. This could not be further from the truth; we are frail, imperfect human beings who are striving to serve the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. Without the grace and mercy of God, we would not choose to love selflessly. By nature, we are all self-centered, egocentric humans who love ourselves more than anyone else. The beauty of the Gospel is that because God chose to love us in our self-centered depravity, we can now choose to love others with a selfless love. In a moment of ugly weakness, Jesus shattered my pride into a million pieces. Through the sweet, sincere song of a child He brought those pieces back together to form in my heart a compassion that only He could create.

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