Once You Know Their Names, Everything Changes

Our foster care story began several years ago when we lived in Washington. After attending a Steven Curtis Chapman concert, we came home with more serious resolve than ever before to look into adoption. Over the next few weeks we began searching for more information and decided that it just wasn’t God’s timing.
Although there was still a desire in my heart, it was put on the back burner until we moved to South Dakota. One day while chatting with my friend Shirley, whose family has fostered many children for more than 25 years, she suggested we think about fostering. Well, we did think about it… and now we are doing it!

Four years into foster care, one thing has become crystal clear: There are so many parts to it. And by parts, I mean the people who play a part in it. From judges to the kids themselves, I’ve been amazed at the “village” involved in the process. Like other things, there’s positives and negatives in having that many people brought into an already challenging situation. Because we all approach situations from different backgrounds, with different personalities and intentions and for different reasons, it can become complicated to sort through it all. Often a child is taken from a bad situation by police officers who turn them over to social workers. The social worker must then find foster parents to take them in. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the child and they are moved from a foster home with parents and a family to a place where troubled kids reside with strict  rules and military-style enforcement of those rules. The court system comes into the picture by regularly hearing the cases and sorting through the muck of it all to attempt to arrive at a helpful decision.

Looking back to my beginning feelings regarding foster care, I know I was not totally ready (emotionally) for the harsh reality that so many kids live in day to day. I was well aware that the abuse of drugs and alcohol often lead to neglect and mistreatment of children, but I was unaware of how it would affect me to meet them and begin to love them. Knowing their stories was agonizing, and I was presented with feelings that were difficult to process. Looking each evening into the innocent faces of those children who would sit around my dinner table or who I’d spy in the rear-view mirror of the car looking with empty stares out the window sometimes brought an ache in my soul. In simple terms, I had hoped that by fostering a child we could help make their lives better. In these four years, I have come to recognize that we probably have minimal impact on the real life situations of a child who comes into our home and lives. The reality is that there were so many years lived before “us”, and there will be so many lived after “us”.

It’s not that I doubt God’s ability to reach down and change a child’s life forever, but I do have a much more realistic view of what it’s like to live the life of a neglected or abused child. While I have a strong and unwavering belief in God’s grace and in His sovereignty, I also know that as Beth Moore said “no matter how much we want it and try it, we can not just love a child to wellness.” The truth is that the love I have for the kids placed in my home is not enough to fix them. And very often it does not matter how broken or dysfunctional it may be, the connection they have to their own families is very strong.
I’ve read many testimonials of kids who have grown up in foster care. Many have similar foster stories that are unfortunately not happy ones. I can’t spend too much time thinking about kids who are moved for their protection only to be victimized and violated even more. The way one young girl verbalized her feelings about what she had experienced in foster families stabbed my heart: “I’ll just have to accept the fact they don’t care where I come from, what I want, what I think, or what I’m going to do.” And although I pray that we serve kids because of God’s love, some foster kids’ perceptions of even good foster situations can be skewed because of their backgrounds and history.

So, where does that leave us in this overwhelming world of foster care?
Well, I’ve decided that the risk of heartbreak is worth it. Being involved in foster care is crazy hard some days. Sometimes there’s heartbreak because the kids that we are trying to love are rude and cynical. Other times my heart breaks because they are so sweet and thoughtful, and saying goodbye to them brings a floodgate of tears and so much sadness. But like Winnie the Pooh says: How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. 
Yes, I’ve decided that to this point I’m all in. Even when we pack bags and boxes too soon, or when we face Christmas morning without the noise of kids that filled our lives days before, I’m thankful. Thankful for God’s great grace that rescued me from sin and self and allowed me the privilege of helping kids discover that they too can be rescued.

Once you know their names … everything changes.

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