Kids from Hard Places

Being back to 4 kids again has been another adventure. I am not able to share any details here about our current placement in order to preserve confidentiality, but I can speak in generalities about foster care and what God is teaching me.

Children from hard places are precious and beautiful. Yet when they enter into your home, whether it is temporary or permanent, it is tough to always know how to feel. It is one of those strange things because family, neighbors and friends who have been aware of your fostering journey say “congrats” on the new placement.  And rightly so—it is exciting.  But it is also hard—hard because that child has had tremendous loss, and they are hurting; hard because you are entering into that hurt right along with them, and it means a lot of ups and downs.

Such ups and downs are particularly present when the child is not a baby that you can bond with through babywearing and bottle feeding (something I have loved doing with several of our foster kids)—connecting with kids in the next stage takes tremendous focus, intentionality, thought, and often the right words, expressions and gentle touch at the right times. Yet there is also tremendous joy, because the little ones “just want to be loved” (to quote Maria’s words to Captain VonTrapp); children eat up the attention and love to feel safe.  For example, a little girl might slowly extend her heart, choosing to risk by trusting. Then fear comes in and she closes up; she pulls back the trust a little bit; then she extends it again—yes, no, yes, no—it is a bit of a dance. You try to be consistent. You want to be consistent, and to truly display unconditional love, but you know that your tone is not always quite right; that your patience is not interminable… You also recognize that the adjustment your other kids are going through is pulling your attention towards them too…

Yet there is powerful hope underlying the whole experience. Why? Because you get to be part of helping a child learn what it means to be loved, safe, and accepted, and not because they deserve it or are doing everything right, but just because they are who they are and that is special. Because you know God made them and loves them too.  Unfortunately many kids—especially those who have been in foster care for a while—are used to being labeled “good” or “bad” and see themselves that way. They are on the lookout for if someone is “angry” in order to figure out how to react. But they can only be free once they understand relationally that they are safe and free of labels and judgment. That cannot happen overnight, and many emotions emerge, erupt and bubble up in the process. [If you want to learn more about helping kids like this, a great resource we have found is the TBRI work of Karyn Purvis—shameless plug].

As I connect with a new little one in our family, I have hope for the long term, and I have hope for the now.  I cling to some promises in scripture, like Galatians 6:9, which says “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Sometimes, however, I do feel weary. So what do I do then? Well, if I am relying on my own strength, I get frustrated that I am weary and I blame myself for each and every mistake and every negative thought. But if I am thinking rightly, I remind myself of the Gospel—the good news that, just as I love my children whether they obey or not, God loves me, and my right-ness is only because I am “in Christ.” So I can remember that the gospel is not just for when I first believed in Jesus, but for each moment. Colossians 2:6-7 says “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” My strength and my power and my growth and my hope are “in Him,” not in perfectly following my plan of how to be a great foster mom. Yet I can grow, “built up” in truth and grace and “walking” in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now that is indeed good news.

I love the prayer in Colossians 1:11-12a, and pray it for myself and others: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, …” I can’t help but notice the repeated focus on thanksgiving, present in both the Colossians passages I have mentioned here. Maybe God is telling me something.

So I also pray: “Thank you God, for entrusting another little one to my care. Thank you for blessing me by giving me both way more joy than I deserve (as I see the smiles and hear the contagious laughter that only a child can produce) and continued growth by reminding me just how much I need your strength for each day.”

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The Danger of Comparison

  • Her house is cleaner…
  • She runs more and does core exercises every day…
  • She doesn’t let the dust build up in her house…
  • She does more crafts with her kids…
  • She is doing more science with her homeschooling…
  • Her kids have memorized more scripture…
  • She makes time to develop herself and reads more…
  • She actually practices her instrument regularly…
  • Her floors are spotless—she must mop more…
  • She feeds her family less processed foods…
  • Her 5 year old is a better reader than mine…
  • She is more organized in how her kids do chores…
  • She is mentoring more girls than I am…
  • She is more accomplished in her career…

These are the kinds of thoughts I have from time to time. Notice the wide range of comparison. Notice that no human being could actually be good at all of those things, yet I am dissatisfied with myself for any number of them at any particular time. Granted, this is thankfully not my actual state of mind most of the time, because I know and love my Heavenly Father, who made me and gave me gifts and calls me his child. I love being part of a family (the family of God), with a father whose acceptance of me is not based on my performance or measuring up, but rather on His sacrifice and His free gift of mercy and grace.

I once heard that when we compare, it is usually comparing our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. I have noticed that when I, and other people I know, focus on comparing, it robs us of finding joy in serving with our strengths, and prevents us from forming authentic relationships and close bonds with people. In fact, I have found that relationships immediately gain depth and closeness when I authentically share my struggles, embrace others in their weaknesses, and take opportunities to encourage and appreciate others when I notice their strengths, rather than turn it into a self-focused moment where I am missing out both on encouraging them and on giving God glory for the different gifts He gives different people. Comparison is incredibly selfish and prideful. Comparison is isolating and lonely.

I recently read a book called Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman, where she encourages us to embrace “smallness” and the “ordinary” in our lives as amazing things to be noticed and enjoyed.

God’s Word also encourages us to live simply, focused on Jesus, and on loving and serving one another. I love the reminder in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” If we trust in God instead of ourselves for our goodness, our forgiveness, our righteousness—then we have no need to compare. We have no need to try to prove ourselves. Instead, we are free from the trap of pride and comparison and guilt—we are free to love and serve from a place of joy and with a desire to bless.

That is indeed good news! I am so thankful to God for the family and the opportunities he has blessed me with, and I pray each day that, instead of falling into destructive habits that hinder joyful service and obstruct healthy relationships, God will give me strength to walk in these truths, knowing that because of the power of the Gospel, my identity is in Him.