The sound of sobbing overflowed from the backseat, spilling into the atmosphere. My own eyes had become fountains as a host of emotions, many never previously encountered, coursed down my cheeks. I’m not even sure how my husband got us home that day—his heart like a team of wild horses had long since gotten away.
Our family laughed loudly on Space Mountain at Disney World. We belt out song lyrics in our living room. We pray together. Laugh together. Work to solve problems and a thousand other things families do. But this was the first time we wept together.
It wasn’t the loss of a family pet or the passing of a beloved grandparent that had gripped our hearts. In some ways, it wasn’t a loss at all. We had all participated in a miracle. A big one and a bunch of smaller ones. And when you encounter God’s Spirit in such a way—something has got to give.
We were driving away from a tiny rented row house. Not the kind of home you would see featured on HGTV. The kitchen was only the size of a large closet. The living room, family room, bedroom were one. The hot water tended to run cold. And yet in this modest space lived a woman, a champion who fought for life and clarity and freedom. And won.
We were there to deliver the prize: Her daughter.
Many people outside the world of foster care assume bonding with and then returning a child to their birth family is a heartache too great to bear and fear of farewell likely keeps families from serving in this capacity.
The War Between Fear & Love
John, “the apostle of love” writes perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I remind myself often that the opposite is also true: fear casts out love.
I’ve never said goodbye to a child we’ve cared for without tears in my eyes—even when their leaving is the result of answered prayers; even when they’re leaving at our request. The emotional impact reverberates through us all—child, biological family, foster family and our extensions (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, friends, co-workers, etc.) who have walked portions of the journey with us. Regardless, I can say with confidence, loving is always worth the cost. Always.
But this isn’t a story of overcoming and reunifying. It’s a story of transformation. And not from the perspective of the bio or foster parents or the child in foster care, but of the foster siblings. And the renovation of hearts who have only experienced the good things in life.
You Have Been Loved, to Love
We have three biological children. They were loved before they were born. I imagined them long before they came to life—and I named them. Prayed for them. Called them forward.
They were more than we could have hoped for. And like every parent who adores their children we offered them opportunities to develop. Our home was filled with melodies as little fingers plunked the piano and tiny voices begged not to have to practice. The deep romantic swell of the cello was there too. And the beat of drums. There was gymnastics and seasons of traveling to competitions. Then musical theater and every Disney ballad sung on and off key throughout the house. School work. Homework. Housework. Church. Chores. Choices. The stuff of life.
We had done a great job of building them up and loving them strong. But we hadn’t yet made space for them to practice doing the same—to love others strong, build others up. As parents, the call was clear. It was time for us turn around and go back.
For us, that meant a ministry of foster care. It meant our kids would be friends with the kids of doctors, pastors and entrepreneurs but also addicts, felons and those on state assistance. It meant that they would study well in school knowing that we’re not primarily seeking A’s but to develop abilities to serve others.
Our kids would have to share time, attention and resources sacrificially. Practically, this looked like sharing their bedrooms, toys and time with us. Getting up a little earlier or going to bed a little later to help manage a house that at times was exploding with children and the needs of children. They answered difficult and sometimes insensitive questions from peers who didn’t understand why our family looked different or what foster care really means.
And we’ve witnessed heart-expanding beauty. Like the time our hours-new foster daughter accompanied me to the gym to watch practice and our daughter’s entire gymnastics team (who had been anticipating our new arrival) stopped practice to smile, wave and introduce themselves. Or watching our teenage son scoop up his two-year-old foster sister and play silly games with her just to make her giggle. Or hearing our children call non-biological “placements” who came to our home as strangers, brother, sister. This is inclusion. This is love.
In varying degrees, we’ve watched our biological children move from being self-focused, peer-pleasing receivers to compassionate givers, leaders, who have the capacity to make decisions, walk independently and have a deeper understanding of their purpose in the world.
They’ve developed resiliency, empathy, responsibility while being able to witness, not experience the first-hand effects of society’s most devouring beasts. Drug and alcohol abuse. Unsafe sexual practices. Homelessness. Domestic Violence. Poverty. I’ve seen this miracle repeated in the homes of our friends who foster also.
Our biological children have become better humans because of foster care.
Honestly, my husband and I don’t know how to raise compassionate, grateful, Christ-loving human beings who live sacrificially and love fully. But we can create space for these attributes to flourish.
When our daughters were learning back-handsprings and stride-circles in gymnastics or our son was learning scales on the cello—it wasn’t the occasional comment or demand “You should really do it like this” that helped them learn. It was practice in the gym or on the instrument. It was time. It required their attention, effort, dedication and passion. And for us parents, it required commitment and money.
So why do we think merely telling our children to be grateful or demanding they act with compassion will do anything to transform their hearts? It’s impossible. That’s not how people learn. That’s not how we change. Furthermore, we do a disservice to our kids when we make their lives as cushy and comfortable as possible because that’s not an accurate portrayal of life. Life is harsh and for some, extremely so.
Creating space where parents and children are compelled to practice soul-skills is where power is forged. That’s where transformation and growth flourishes. It’s the garden where love blooms.
It’s difficult. Messy. Loud. Frustrating. Uncertain. Frightening. And necessary.
Weeping with my family after returning their sister, our daughter of eleven months, to her mother was a pivotal moment in our family’s history, legacy. We all loved that child, according to our roles in her life and she changed us. Made us better. Many years later and my soul is still bearing fruit from our time together.
There are many ways to rescue. It may be formal or informal, for a season or a few, but let me encourage you parents—the ones who love their biological children, and have given them everything possible, to allow them to receive what you cannot give. Consider becoming a foster family. The gains and losses will transform the hearts of those you love best in the couple of ways I mentioned and 10,000 others that time will reveal. Consider making space for your children to learn what you cannot teach—lessons the soul and heart must experience for itself. Consider creating space for one more.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "