“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.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "