Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Photo by Taylor Fiddyment
On Monday night both our families sat around the dining room table, eating dinner together for the first time and talking foster care. A week later we’re on the path to be neighbors and I reference them as if we’ve been friends forever, but that’s how God works sometimes. After the blog post Pursuing Kids in Foster Care came out, we had discovered that both of us were in the foster care process, which is kind of an instant bond. Between the social services jargon, the calendar that is suddenly filled with court dates, social worker appointments, county worker visits, doctor’s appointments, and the never ending stack of paperwork to be completed, it can be a welcome relief when you meet someone else who speaks the same language and has days filled juggling just as many phone calls as you do.
There are so many similarities between the two of us couples. We’re both youngish (please say late 20s is still young, right?), both been married for around 4 years, and both live in Truckee with similar lifestyles, both Christian, and friends with many of the same people (not hard to accomplish in Tahoe).
We're not the stereotypical foster family, if such a thing exists. We're not waiting until our own biological kids are grown up, we haven't met our career goals or have our finances in perfect order, we can still get pregnant, and we started this process while living in a rental.
Why, then, did we become Foster parents?
Because God directs us to foster and adopt.
I don’t mean this as a specific, God singled both our families out to help foster kids and their parents. I truly believe that our God is beyond human understanding, so to say there’s a one fit formula for everyone when it comes to discerning God’s will would be hugely presumptuous on my part (there’s no way I have life and God figured out that perfectly), but I do believe that there are specific things God will call you to do and certain things that will always be within his will.
Seeking out God’s will is an interesting subject. There’s a difference between actively pursuing God’s will and just hoping that he will bless what you are doing. Sometimes I’m not clear on what path we should take, so Matt and I pray, give God full permission to direct us, and jump off the cliff, knowing full well God will navigate through our human errors if we dedicate ourselves to him. God can always take our 1% effort and somehow, beautifully turn that into a God driven purpose and path that leads straight to him.
But there are plenty of times when there are things that will always be not just good but within his calling for all of us. How each of those play out may look different, but we are all called to help the homeless, the widows, the orphans- in today’s modern language, the homeless, the single mothers, the foster kids and orphans, etc. When it comes to orphans, some may be called to adopt, others may support adoptive families, others may be social workers to work inside the system, and others may move overseas to open orphanages. I’ve known people who have done all of these things, and just like the body of Christ has many different parts that make up the whole body, there are many different roles to be filled within each of these groups that Jesus constantly directs our energy to.
"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
-1 Corinthians 12
Both of us couples compared notes about what started us down the foster care journey. Our friends confessed that they both started from an introspective state, looking at their own lack of ability to start a family and wanting to complete their own family. The more and more they learned, the more classes they attended, and the more they walked down their path with Jesus they realized that this wasn’t about them- it was about being there for someone else.
My reaction? CONGRATULATIONS- YOU ARE ALREADY PARENTING.
You know when you get married and realize how selfish you actually are? Parenting is another step of that process. You again realize how self centered your life is, and again deepen your maturity and focus on someone else over yourself (within reason. Don’t become that parent that loses their sense of self and identity in Christ for identity in your kids. That’s a whole other conversation, though).
That’s what parenthood is. It’s a continued maturing and dying to self, and re-focus on serving and being for others rather than focused on our self.
Foster parenting is an amplified version of that. You are not there for your own family, or creating a picture perfect, multi-racial family that is super trendy and looks great on Instagram pics. You are being a family for this specific child(ren). You are sacrificing your time to be there for someone else, who may or may not be a part of your life. You are pouring in the selfless love of a parent without any guarantee of a return.
These past few months taking care of our Little Guy have been some of the most exhausting, draining months of my life. I’ve done nothing to further my own name, no great deed that stands out for myself, and accomplished very little other than binge watching Minimalist lifestyle documentaries on Netflix while pacing the floor when Little Guy won’t sleep.
At the same time, these past few months have been the most fulfilling months of my life. Parenting is always a wonderful and giving experience, and parenting our daughter Jamison wasn’t any less valid than parenting our Little Guy. But it has been different. I love pouring in my energy and love and fighting for someone who cannot- it is as much as I can love like Jesus as I'm capable of and completely the best thing I have done. I know if I die tomorrow I have done something for someone else; I’ve made the time I’ve been given count.
The extraordinary paradox involved in making the most of our lives – of which Jesus is to show the supreme example. He says if you want to make the most of your life, you have to give it away. You have to abandon your life to his service and the gospel – ‘whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it’
When people are asked about the person whose life they most admire, so often the answer is ‘Mother Teresa’. She made the most of her life. It is a paradox, because her life was a life of self-denial, taking up her cross and following Jesus.
-Nicky Gumbel, BiYO
I think that sums up perfectly what I love most about living right now. And of course I am receiving somehow even more joy in return, so it doesn't seem selfless at all because how could you not want to love on these little ones?
It also makes me very sad to think of J, our other temporary foster placement, and realize how damaged he was because he didn't have these early interventions like our current Little Guy has. I hope someday, maybe when our kiddos are out of the house, we can take in older children as well, but right now God is using us exactly where we are at and in a plan that makes perfect sense. Suddenly the story of Sarah and Abraham and not waiting on the Lord, but trying to make what you know God desires happen on your own time and that disaster ring very close to home. We, too, felt impatient after saying yes to 30 kids and not receiving one placement, so we said yes to an emergency placement that we should not have, and had to go through a painful process of terminating the placement due to safety factors. There is nothing new under the sun, and clearly no matter how often I read my bible, I will still be stumbling and falling over and over again.
Matt and I didn’t start this journey perfectly either. We both started with the thought of our family as the first priority, and it was only as we continued down the long process of classes on trauma, abuse, and attachment that we began to shift our focus from our own family to whatever child needed us for however long. Our friends caught on after a few months; it took Matt and I well over a year of painful and slow maturity to realize how selfish we were being and change our heart's desire for meeting other's needs, not our own.
Not coincidentally, our shift of perspective happened last year, which was the first year I actually read my Bible cover to cover. I'm humbled to admit that it took me 20+ years of being a Christian to do that. Nevertheless, my pampered, spoiled butt finally got in gear and read through the Bible for myself. And the more I read, the more I didn’t want to read anything else. Nothing else was as satisfying, challenging, and comforting all at the same time. I also noticed so many things that are glossed over or assumed in our culture’s Christian lingo that aren’t necessarily based in what the Bible actually has to say. I noticed how much God reiterated over and over, Old Testament and New, this calling to be a servant to others, to reach out and to actively love those on the outskirts.
I believe in this book. I’ve claimed to follow it all my life. But I was convicted over and over that year that I needed to up my game. I needed to put my money where my mouth was; if I truly believed in Hebrews 4:12, then I needed to live like it.
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Instead of just reading words, I was reading a map with some fundamental issues that all of us as Christians are called to follow. Instead of just reading it, I needed to act on it.
Another one of my goals last year was to read 1 non fiction book each month. I kicked off January with Love Does, lent to me by a friend who had no idea what kindling she was giving me to fuel my new found flame of faith. Rarely do we realize the full potential of our seemingly insignificant acts when we allow God his proper freedom to navigate our every move.
"Wouldn’t it be a horrible thing if we studied the ones we loved instead of bonding in deeper ways by doing things with them? I’d never want to get married to a girl no matter how much I studied her. I’d rather take her sailing or fishing or eat cotton candy with her on a Ferris wheel. I don’t thinking knowing what her name means in Greek is going to help me love her more…
So I started getting together with the same guys each week and instead of calling it a Bible study, we call it a “Bible Doing.” We’ve been at it for fifteen years now, and I’ve found there’s a big difference between the two. At our Bible doing, we read what God has to say and then focus all of our attention on what we are going to do about it. Just agreeing isn’t enough. I can’t think of a single time where Jesus asked His friends just to agree with him."
Bob Goff, Love Does
I kept reading and reading. The more I read my Bible, the more I saw over and over again just how much God constantly redirects our efforts and energy into those around us, into serving and reaching out to the marginalized.
"I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want."
I’ve been a Christian ever since I was five years old. I’ve spent my life growing up in the church, attending youth retreats, conventions for young adults, meetings for InterVarsity- the whole bit. And all of these things are valid and good, but they are not the only thing, or the priority. Jesus is the priority. What he desires is should be the priority. The rest is important, but if it is not in its proper order of our priorities and focus, it is a distraction.
The truth is, though, foster care isn’t sexy. It’s not as trendy or full of Instagram moments like marching in a parade or posting a picture of yourself with an inspirational phrase on a poster. It’s messy, and it’s hands on, and it’s exactly the kind of work Jesus endorses. Pacing the floor of a NICU with an infant going through drug withdrawals isn’t glamorous. Meeting the traumatized teenage who has endured years of sexual abuse leaves you feeling nearly as traumatized. I've been through both these past few months, and I look more worn out and haggard than I have ever before. I can't travel out of the state without a court order, so travel is more difficult. I can't post pictures of my little one's face on social media because of foster care laws and privacy protection. There is nothing to show off, nothing glamorous for myself to take pride in. And it is exactly where we are called to be.
"God says He wants us to battle injustice, to look out for orphans and widows, to give sacrificially….God wants us to get some skin in the game and to help make a tangible difference.
I can’t make a real need matter to me by listening to the story, visiting the website, collecting information, or wearing the bracelet about it. I need to pick the fight myself...Then most important of all, I need to run barefoot toward it...I want to be running because time is short and none of us has as much runway as we think we do; and I want it to be a fight because that’s where we can make a difference. That’s what love does.
Sure, it’s easier to pick an opinion that it is to pick a fight….Picking a fight isn’t neat either. It’s messy, it’s time consuming, it’s painful, and it’s costly. It sounds an awful lot like the kind fight Jesus took on for us when He called out death for us and won."
Bob Goff, Love Does
It doesn’t matter who you are. If you follow Christ, you are called into an active participation in his love. His love doesn’t care if you are married or single, rich or poor, able to conceive or struggling with infertility. The focus is called off of ourselves and onto others.
We have a very broken foster care system right in front of us. It has valid intentions and some amazing people working from within, but the Government shouldn’t be given full responsibility for something God intends for his living body to do.
If 1 family in every 3 churches in the United States adopted a child waiting in the foster care system, every child would have a family.
Each year around 26,000 children age out of the foster care system, meaning they are 18 with no familial support to transition into adulthood. These numbers are hard to wrap your head around; the problem seems insurmountable. I can’t give 26,000 kids a home. I can’t feed every homeless person I see. But I can do what is right in front of me.
When Matt and I lived in San Diego, we often stopped to give homeless people rides, buy them a meal, and sometimes make an occasional run to Target for new shoes or a backpack. We’d ask them their story, where they were from, and get to know the ever revolving parade of faces in downtown Escondido. About 9 out of every 10 people we met, when asked about where they came from, answered with some variation that they aged out of foster care and were now homeless.
If we everyone of us stepped out and fed the person in front of us, adopted the child in front of us, cared for the one knocking at our door, the problem wouldn’t exist any more. I can't adopt 26,000 kids, but if I and 25,999 others did, we would have met that need. We can’t tackle the whole problem, but God will always provide opportunity right in front of our noses. We can go overseas, we can stay at home, it doesn’t matter- just do. Step out into an active role with Jesus. Don't stop at agreeing with me- continue to the next step of mimicking him.
"When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. 'Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,' he said. 'And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me.'”