“Fostering is not for the faint of heart,” I said, instantly regretting my cliché response. In a world where anguish and uncertainty are served in heaps and hope rationed, it’s easy to assume only the strongest families, the most spiritual servants, the most gracious givers are best equipped to wade through the murky waters of the foster care system.
I think most people assume that. And most people are wrong.
If I had any notions of saving the world, one child at a time (and I did), fostering has done a fine job of scrubbing them away. Fostering is mainly about people and relationships. And both are decidedly complex.
The good guys aren’t flawless. The bad guys aren’t beyond redemption. And who's who, anyway? The big picture is revealed in pieces. The tension is thick as is the desire to dig in, dole out blame and demand justice. But what is justice? Can something even be made right after it's been wrong for so long? Fostering is not only about children in care but the families they come from.
Our kids’ parents are in prison, addicted, homeless, marginalized, afraid, confused, ricocheting through the courts like pinballs. Poverty is often a factor but it's not the kind of financial duress that can be solved with money alone. There is an impoverished skill set: Reading a pediatrician's prescription, negotiating with a landlord, even internet access (and all the information and efficiency it provides) can prove challenging. There are impoverished relationships: Familial connections and social circles have all too common struggles with unemployment or under-employment, discrimination, financial disparity, addiction, mental health, isolation, lack of modeling and mentors, spiritual desolation. There may even be an inability to dream and plan: Forethought, goal setting and creativity can inhibited due to existing in ‘survival mode.’ And on and on.
Even harder to bear, our kids’ parents were once where our kids are today. Listen to their stories and it’ll quickly be apparent that they are the strong ones. The fierce ones. They survived horrific sexual abuse and severe neglect. They cared for siblings best they could. They took the hit. Went without. Got laughed at. Figured it out. Survived hell. But the thing is, nobody emerges from hell unscathed.
Sure, I got a bit of a back story—but not that back. I actually rejoice in every bit of pain, insecurity and fear I’ve felt because it’s helped me feel, understand, get (or at least try to) the perspective of the parents we serve. I want to see what they see. Feel what they feel. Understand what matters most to them.
And this is precisely why foster parenting is for the weak. Because once you see, you can’t unsee. Once you understand, you are overwhelmed. Once you feel, you break.
It’s not unlike storming a castle to rescue captives then getting disoriented in dimly-lit corridors that twist and turn. How does one escape an ever-shifting labyrinth with everyone they love in one piece? The answer of course, is they don’t. They break in a thousand pieces and so does everyone else. Fostering is about people and relationships. We are all connected.
We demonstrate love of God by obeying the Son and Jesus teaches that loving God is synonymous with loving people. Because He is supremely valuable and we desire Him most of all, we love the ones He has made. And He made us all.
Christ's invitation of love extends across the tracks to the biological family. It goes up court steps beckoning judges, attorneys, social workers. It calls to the addicted and sober alike. The rich and poor. It reverberates from broken hearts that barely beat like it shone from Christ’s pierced body that still lives!
In Him, you are a blazing light that shines in the dark. A light that cannot be overcome.
They understood earthquakes. Felt the tremors. Watched dirt crack as the ground’s muddy mouth opened wide. Mothers lunged for children. Men grasped the dirty, sweaty hands of fellow laborers to hold them safe. A trembling earth was terrible but familiar. But that day, it was not the earth but the sky that quaked. Thunder growled. Storm-sounds from a nearly cloudless sky. The heavens split and earth’s pulse paused until a voice exploded from the expanse, sounding something like honey salted with fire.
“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well-pleased.” Mark 1:11
In You I Am.
Son of God. Son of Man. Died the death of His beloved but also lived the life she should have.
Jesus, the Anointed One of God, incarnate God, is the new Adam; the new Israel. He is the restorer, redeemer, reliever and re-doer. He is the new you.
The stars in the night sky number Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 22:17) and one star of a myriad lead magi from the East to worship at the little feet of one descendant (Matthew 2:2).
The first man eats then falls before the serpent in the garden (Genesis 3:6) yet the God-Man abstains from food and confounds the dragon in the wilderness (Mark 1:13).
Moses fasts 40 days before returning with the Law and a glow (Exodus 34:28) yet Israel’s heart remains stony so for 40 years they walk it out (Joshua 5:6). And all this time is reclaimed by Christ.
Immediately after His baptism by John, the Spirit impelled (forced, urged, sent) Jesus into the wilderness where one day for every year Israel wandered, He is tempted by His foe, faux, surrounded by wild beasts and angels. He doesn't succumb like they did but smashes the beast’s demonic histrionics like eggshells, returning not with heavier laws but limitless grace. He's not seeking robots or puppets, but lovers. A code of conduct can't make a stony heart beat but the Hound of Heaven* can.
And the cross. Death's defeat and the King's coronation. The One who is faithful and true reigns with justice and mercy. Bleeds like a man but like God alone, His blood makes filthy robes white (Revelation 7:14). His holy death births our holy life.
Jesus untangles sin’s knots and makes crooked paths, straight. He is God and the way back to God. The Cartographer of the new heaven, new earth. The Architect of the sacred city that comes from above.
God saw all that He had made, and it was good. True, a tongue-twisting traitor spewed venom on creation, taking unique interest in the image-bearers of the One he hates most. But God’s good is always good. So, God dressed himself in flesh and set out to redeem His bride and rid their house of vermin.
In You I am.
The Father speaks this to the Son. And then the son pours out his Spirit on you. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Therefore, be a witness of this truth in the strength the Spirit supplies. God’s good is always good. If you are in Christ, the Father’s authority abides in you. The earth may tremble under your feet, the sky may quake and set your heart racing, a slick-tongued serpent may even whisper lies in your ear.
Just remember if you’re in Him, the power of the almighty God is in you. Go in peace. And power.
*Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven, https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "