“I hope she stays with you guys”
“Hopefully you’ll be able to adopt her”
“She’ll be better off with you guys”
“It’s sad that people give up their kids for an addiction”
“She’s your baby”
“You’re her mommy”
“Is “she” really doing what she’s supposed to?”
“She still sees her mom!?”
“Do you want to adopt her?”
“So what’s the story?”
“Is her mom in prison?”
These are comments that have been often made to us as foster parents and I’m sure they are common things that all foster parents are used to hearing. Even though they are well meaning comments (most of the time) many do not realize the incredibly conflicting feelings and implications that come with them. Do we love our little foster daughter? Of course we do… When you look into the eyes of the new little one (or little ones) entrusted to you and see them smile at you and depend on you, it’s impossible not to fall in love. Going through the days feeding them, cleaning them, and making them laugh fills your heart to the brim with love and joy while simultaneously breaks it in two because you know they may not be yours forever. Hearing people say “congratulations” and showering you with gifts and calling you “mom and dad” is both joyous and conflicting… I’ll accept the gifts, the congratulations, and the titles gladly but I also fear the day I may have to explain that the little one went back home… You’re happy with me today, but what about if she returns home? I won’t be surprised if you sympathize with me and cry for my “loss” but will you also rejoice with me? REJOICEbecause a family has been reunited. Will you celebrate with me, or furrow your eyebrows in anger and frustration? This too is a question that foster parents must ask themselves. If your child returns to their home, will you rejoice or will you wallow in sorrow and be shaken with wrath because in your judgment, you believed (or wanted to believe) it wasn’t the best thing for the child? These are not decisions we have the power to make- sure we can have an opinion but it’s out of our hands. I would argue that even those who do make the decisions are also not really in control. The only one who has any kind of real control is God himself.
When God told Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, he clearly had his ideas about them. The Ninevites were wicked people who lived far from God’s will and Jonah wanted nothing to do with them, so much so that he deliberately fled in the opposite direction that God asked him to go. Of course he was only fooling himself because to make a short story even shorter- his disobedience to God landed him 3 nights and 3 days in the belly of a great fish. When God decided to give Jonah a second chance he obliged God’s request, although rather reluctantly. He went, warned the city of Nineveh of the coming consequences that would result from their wickedness if they did not repent. To his dismay- the entire city came to repent and know the Lord. This made Jonah incredibly furious, so furious that he continually wished to die rather than see the Ninevites saved!It’s easy to see how outrageous this is but this outrageousness is exactly what we ourselves risk falling into if we stop working towards the reunification of families in foster care and instead wish to fulfill our own desires and believe we make better judgments than God can.
Let me explain- It’s true that kids don’t enter foster care if they come from happy, healthy families with no big problems. Usually the events that lead up to children being taken away from their families requires a serious enough event that the state decides it is best to remove them temporarily. This does not always involve drug addiction or physical/sexual abuse, sometimes it does, but that’s not always the case. Every situation is different and often times very complex. So yes, even though the child is usually taken from their home because of a poor decision on the part of the birth family- this does not make the birth family irredeemable. Believing that they do not have hope or that they do not deserve to get their child back ultimately puts us on the same boat of irredeemability. In God’s eyes, we all fall short and we all deserve death. We have all sinned and are unworthy of being in God’s presence and we would all still be destined to hell if it were not for His saving life, death and resurrection. The truth is that birth families are not more or less sinful than we are and not out of God’s reach. If you cannot extend mercy and grace to the biological family of a foster child, then you have missed your own wretchednessand have forgotten, or have not truly experienced, the mercy and grace given to you.
The reality is that WE were the Ninevites. All of us were dead in our transgressions and needed the forgiveness that Jesus offered on the cross and the life He offered after His resurrection. Imagine if the course of your life was headed in the direction of a serious calamity and no one warned you. Imagine if for so long you have struggled with different problems that have been patterns in your family for generations and no one believed in you or helped you achieve your goals. Imagine getting your child taken away and placed with a stranger and then that stranger hoping to keep your child away from you. Even if perhaps it was your fault for losing them- wouldn’t you hope someone at least showed you mercy and gave you a chance?
I cannot, and I will not stop doing what must be done. Even if in my heart I wish for the opposite- It’s not about my wishes or even my intentions. God’s will is strong enough to surpasses all those things. I must radically trust God and do what He asks even when it puts my desires at risk. EVEN when the individual I am called to love is undeserving (we all are) even when things seem to be going the opposite direction, even when the situations seems hopeless and it appears that it may end in catastrophe. What must be done? Intentional strives, compassionate cooperation and fervent prayer for the reunification of a broken family. It is our responsibility to protect the sacredness of all lives in any way we can. For many Christians this means taking a “pro-life” stance but few take greater strives and fight to protect the children who are already born. Still fewer understand that protecting the sanctity of life is protecting the family- the whole family- because the family is where life happens, and the life of every individual in a family is sacred by God’s standards. The family is God’s institution- it is how He intended for people to live, the best way He knew we could thrive.
The dilemma is that many foster parents (as well as friends and family of foster parents) may end up in the belly of a great fish. Running from God’s commands and thinking they can get away with it. The greater dilemma is that while many successfully get out of the belly, they are already poisoned with bile. A bitter secretion that will infect their attitudes even in obedience. The result- spending the rest of life constantly wishing for a selfish death. So I urge all who are in any way touched by foster care to examine the attitudes in your heart. Stop it with the objections; I know everything is case by case and sometimes mistakes are made on all sides of the foster care system. My point here is not to go into specific cases and specific remedies but to talk about the attitude we must have. This is not a commentary about the way foster care works nor is this a call to let injustice to children go unseen in specific horrible cases. No, this is about the character we need to have as children of God. A child of God will indeed desire justice but will yield that responsibility to God. A child of God is responsible for being filled with God’s love and directing the outflow of that love to allthose around them. A child of God will not only obey God’s command but will do so joyfully. A child of God will preach the good news to their enemies. Finally, a child of God will not hope for a family to fall apart in order to fulfill their own desires.