We have now been a foster family for over two years. During those two years we have had somewhere between 50-60 children come through our home. Just this week we signed the adoption papers for a four-year old girl who was our very first foster kid. She was with us for six days. She then disappeared into the foster system, only to have God bring her back into our lives eighteen months later to be adopted. The decision to adopt her was the easiest and the hardest decision ever. It was easy because God orchestrated events in such a way to make it crystal clear that adoption was really the only option. It was the hardest, because there are days that I am selfish, and the idea of adopting a four-year old “at my age” was a bit terrifying.
After our first year of fostering I posted here concerning a few things that we had learned. I want to elaborate on a couple of those ideas, and add a thing or two. As I shared a year ago we decided to become a foster family as we reflected on how crazy it was that we had a “home office” that was almost never used. Our family decided to convert the office space back to a bedroom to be in a better position to welcome others into our home.
The journey continues to be a combination of learning and maturing, and at the same time heart-wrenching and challenging. Here are just a few things we have learned, or have been reminded of in a fresh way, over the past two years:
There are multiple ways to be involved as a foster/resource family.
In the past when I heard about a family providing foster care, I thought it only meant long-term placement. What we have been most involved with over the past two years is what is called “PPC”, “Respite Care” and “Family Preservation.” In a very abbreviated version let me explain each.
PPC stands for “Police Protective Custody.” Simply put, we provide a safe home where children stay for 72 hours while the police investigate a potentially dangerous situation from which the children have been removed. In a few instances the children are eventually returned to the home, but more often they are moved to a family member’s home, and in some cases they are placed in the foster system until the family can get healthy enough to care for the children. This is short term, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to love on children who come from very difficult situations.
Respite Care and Family Preservation are both about providing “rest” for families (in most cases single mothers) and children. The difference between the two is that respite involves those children who are already in the system where the foster family needs a break; while family preservation works with families that simply need assistance to help “preserve” their families. The selfish side of respite is that you can schedule when your family is willing and able to take a child into your home. This can be such a wonderful ministry to single moms who simply need someone to come alongside them, if only for one weekend a month.
The depth of brokenness is great.
Most of the kids live in chaos every day of their lives. Some evenings they don’t know where they will sleep. They don’t know if they will be safe in their bed at night. They don’t know who will be in their home in the morning when they wake up. Many times they are not sure when they will eat again. They wonder, does anyone really love me? Who will protect me from harm? Who will be on my side? Most of these kids don't know life from any other vantage point.
The number one issue, brought about by this lack of stability, for every one of these kids is fear. There is a deep and constant fear of being hungry, of abandonment, of parental anger, of other family members, of abuse, lack of control, etc. Needless to say, children cannot thrive when living in constant fear.
The Church must get involved!
I believe involvement in the foster system may be the churches’ number one, greatest opportunity for influence in the United States today. The kids in and around the foster system represent the orphans of today (James 1:27). Not only are there countless opportunities to impact the lives of the children, but in many cases the system creates significant opportunities to speak into the lives of parents and other family members.
Identify the agencies in your community. Meet with them. Find out their most pressing needs. Enlist ways for the people in your church to meet those needs, not only by engaging personally as foster families, but also by discovering ways to support and bless the workers in those agencies. They are dying for your help and encouragement.
The blessings of hospitality
The funny thing about genuine hospitality is just when you think it is about welcoming the stranger, for their benefit, you realize that it is you who is being blessed by the presence of the “stranger.”
I have learned that hospitality is a spiritual discipline and a missional practice. Both the blessings and difficulties of biblical hospitality are most deeply discovered only as it is pursued. In Radical Hospitality, the authors speak to the transformative power of hospitality on our lives when they state: “The real question is not how dangerous that stranger is. The real question is how dangerous will I become if I don’t learn to be more open?”
I have experienced this statement first hand. It has forced me to face my own selfishness. As mentioned earlier, the decision to recently adopt was not easy at first. I couldn’t help but think how adopting was going to change our way of life for many years to come. I was beginning to look forward to what it would be like in a few years for my wife and I to be “empty nesters.” Additionally, I thought of how having a young child permanently in our home would keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. But over the past several weeks, God has made it clear to me that having more time for ourselves and my own aspirations is not what He has called us to.
The older I get the more I understand that my ambitions matter very little. In fact, they amount to nothing. I am more aware than ever that when I die, my accomplishments at work, my educational achievements, my writing and speaking, will not endure. But the impact we have on the lives of others, especially children (including of course our own) will be one of the few things that last. I am still influenced by a statement from over twenty years ago when I heard someone say that we must learn to invest in our posterity, not our prosperity.
Lately there have been a couple of popular articles in the blogosphere that have pushed back on the idea of being “radical” Christians and the risk we run of having "radical, missional" Christianity become the new ligalism. In response I would say that there is no doubt that we have to watch closely that we do not position our own passions and way of life over against what others may or may not be doing. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else ought to do what we are doing. That too easily can become self-righteous and judgmental, but Jesus did say deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me! (Lk 9) For our family, this is the very least we can do.
With this post I simply want to challenge you to look at your time, and your home differently. Do you have a spare room? Do you have a room that you can put in bunk beds? Do you have at least one weekend a month that you can open up your home, open up your lives and allow another child to do life with you? To see what a “normal” family interaction looks like? I am willing to bet you can.
Last idea. My wife Mischele will be doing a breakout at Sentralized this September in Kansas City on the topic of foster care. Her breakout is titled: Making Room — Parenting Other People's Kids. Hope we might see you there.