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.”