Foster Care: The Beginning of Our Journey
A better title for this post might be my attempt to process what has happened to my life—how my comfortable American family with one boy and one girl, both healthy and happy, with an employed and faithful husband and good father, all living together in a large home with a big yard and attending a nice church on Sunday mornings—how all that suddenly got hit by the whirlwind of our first foster placement.
I don’t even know how it all started. Friends of ours from college, also young parents, started doing foster care a few years ago, and that at least sparked the idea that such a thing was possible for someone in our age and situation. I think Ann Voskamp also had something to do with it. I started reading her blog and then her book, and among the many ways she impacted my life was a greater awareness of the poor and needy, especially poor and needy children, and our responsibility as wealthy Christians (yes, wealthy compared to the rest of the world!) to do something for them, whether it be pray, give, or go.
I don’t mean to be at all harsh in saying this, but I wonder if in our concern for accurate theology, many of us in the Church distance ourselves from the Social Gospel and become eager to prove that we don’t need to earn our salvation by caring for the poor and needy. We become quick to show how uncondemned and unobligated we feel to do anything for them, because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, not by works, and after all, we are already busy, and hesitant to move out of our comfort zone.
Please hear me in saying this, that I do not mean to be harsh. We should never serve from the motive of guilt or theologically inaccurate obligation. We never earn salvation, or God’s approval, or superiority to others, by doing anything. We all have different callings, and what God calls me to do is different from what He calls you to do.
But with all that said, we are created to do good works, to be the Body of Christ in the world, and to live out our faith. Jesus was One who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, and had strong words for the Pharisees who disdained them. The Bible has clear commands throughout, and probably especially in the Gospels, about caring for the poor and needy. Ann Voskamp was maybe the first to help remind me that I couldn’t ignore those commands.
At the same time as I was reading Ann Voskamp, we became friends with multiple families who adopted internationally. One family that is particularly special to us has adopted from both Asia and Africa, and those children in addition to their birth children are to me like a little sample of what heaven will be like—a mix of races and cultures that have become one family. Ben read Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life, and he and I thought it would be cool to adopt internationally, but that became a “someday” dream—probably when we were finished having birth children, and when we could afford it, whenever that might be!
Then last summer I read Radical by David Platt. Though I don’t agree with everything in the book and I think it’s received worthwhile criticism from some corners, the Lord did use that book in my life at a key moment. We had just had baby #2 and moved to a single-family home. Our goals for the upcoming year focused on things like buying bookshelves, a kitchen island, and a flat-screen TV. Of course there’s nothing wrong with those things—we now have the bookshelves and island and are hopeful about that TV! But reading Radical shook me up a little, that I didn’t want to settle for a comfortable suburban lifestyle and miss Christ’s call to discipleship. I wasn’t sure what that would look like in my life beyond that season of nursing Little Girl and chasing Little Boy, but some important seeds were planted.
In the fall I went to a fundraising event for Romanian Reborn, a ministry that equips Romanian Christians to reach out to needy children in their country. Adoption in Romania can be difficult, and many Christian families help instead by providing a permanent foster home. We help sponsor a little girl who for several years has been with a Christian foster family. There is need for more Romanian Christian families to open their homes. So there I was at the fundraiser, thinking about Romania and sitting beside a stranger. As we made small talk, we realized we had a mutual friend who unbeknownst to me had started doing foster care. As I listened to the message at that event, I started thinking, I am so hopeful that Romanian Christians will recognize the need and open their homes … what about me? What about here? What about now?
I came home and started talking with Ben about how even though we would have to wait maybe a decade before we could think about international adoption, foster care was something we could start sooner. He was open to the idea, and it kept simmering in our minds, until at a Christmas party we met a man from our church who is a social worker. I casually mentioned to Ben on the way home that if we ever wanted to know more about foster care, we could ask him.
Pieces fell into place alarmingly quickly after that. Ben talked with our friend. He invited us to an informational event, and we went. The social workers there invited us to a foster care training class that would begin a few weeks later, and all the women in my Bible study volunteered to help with baby-sitting so we could go. It was one of those why not? kind of things, so we went.
In the meantime, it seemed as if every sermon at church, every song we sang, every book we read, was about foster care. Our pastor was preaching through the Gospel of Luke, and every time he talked about Jesus reaching out to sinners or helping someone in need, it was as if God was telling me, “Foster care.” I was reading Forgotten God by Francis Chan, a book about the Holy Spirit. I recall one of his main themes being that the Holy Spirit filling our lives should cause us to live differently, and I kept thinking, “Foster care!”
Even The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom surprised me. I had always admired the ten Booms for opening their home to Jews during WWII. What I hadn’t remembered was the few sentences in the book that briefly mention they did foster care before that. In other words, they were used to opening their home to the poor and needy already. They didn’t become different people during WWII—they just kept doing what they had always been doing, in a different context.
Our foster care training and approval process took five months. To be honest, by the end I’d kind of lost the vision. I was seeing more of the bureaucratic tendencies of social services. I was hearing more stories of foster care gone wrong. I was hurting from a painful situation in my life.
I started doing the Beth Moore Bible study Breaking Free with a mentor from my church. I began to wonder, if I had issues to work through in my own life, was I ready to help someone else? Isaiah 58 became my foster care chapter:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him …?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily ….
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
We don’t help others once we are healed—we find healing in helping others, at least I certainly hope so, because these are the promises I am banking on. This summer, with only a couple hours notice, a foster child came into our home. That turned my life upside down, got my schedule out of control, made my future uncertain, and put my heart in a place where it could easily get broken.
Really for the first time ever, I am outside my comfort zone of the Christian bubble. I can regularly share my faith with unbelievers, and it doesn’t seem awkward, but fits the natural flow of the conversation and the questions they are asking me. For the first time in my life I’m in a position to reach out to a hurting adult whose path I would otherwise never have crossed. For the first time in my life I daily experience providing food and clothes and shelter to a needy child.
My husband and children are very much doing this with me—it is a family project. We never want to sacrifice each other for service, but for us to serve together. My son David and I were talking the other day as I folded laundry, and I started telling the story of Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave Me food.” When did we do this, Lord? As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.
Our foster placement is like Jesus coming into our house. Yes, Jesus, we have time for You. This makes our life a little crazy, but here, have something to eat, have something to drink, we have more than enough to share. This is what You made us for.