3 weeks, not even, 20 days. This was the length of time our 9 year old and 4 month old shared our home. The prospect of these 20 days is what turns many people away from foster care. Why bother? Why give away part of your life, your energy, your time, your space, only to be left without?
We let an arrow fly once and enjoyed the company of a darling little girl for 1 year and 4 months. We flew another and enjoyed 20 precious days with two precious children. We do not get to choose where the arrow lands, we are only given a choice and direction to shoot it- in full knowledge that we will be pierced. In foster care, an arrow has two heads, one flies towards the goal of permanency and the other flies towards you. Permanency refers to a place of final stability for the child, the ideal place of permanency is always with their original blood family, adoption is considered a last resort. The child flies on top of the arrow, making their way into your heart and simultaneously back into their family’s arms.
We were informed early that the kids would only be with us a short time and we were given an exact moving date shortly after they moved in. Given that the moving date was just around the corner- about week and a half, something shifted inside us. We had two choices: to slack and take on a role of, essentially, a babysitter- simply aiming to keep them entertained just a few days longer, thinking about what we’ll do when they leave. Or, we could take this as a cue to sprint the rest of the way and give it all we got. We chose to sprint, but it took constant self checks to be sure we didn’t relax into “babysitting mode”. What does a parenting sprint look like?
It looks like buying Maruchan instant ramen
It looks like staying up late to chat even though you’re exhausted
It looks like choosing to smile at 3am when the baby wakes up
It looks like making an extra trip to the store to get only one item
It looks like eating McDonald’s twice in one day
It looks like skipping tea for multiple days in a row
For those of you who know me, that last one was a big one for me. When people ask me what hobbies I have, the first thing that comes to mind is tea. However, I am not referring to grabbing a teabag and placing it in hot water for a few minutes. It’s not your average British tea time either with finger sandwiches and scones. My tea time is a niche art form referred to as “gong fu cha” or “Making tea with skill”, an art form originating from China. Without going into detail, it is basically part of my daily routine, and a time I often use to work, meditate, pray, think and write. A couple times I was able to escape for a short time into my room to get some tea in by myself but I realized that C was past the age of having uncontrollable urges to destroy things and K was too little to even be capable of interfering. So I started to have my tea times downstairs where everyone was. Of course, this changed what tea time looked like for me but it was worth sharing. A couple times I was able to use tea to talk to C about God’s goodness in providing us plants to enjoy, not only tea but all fruits, vegetables, and grains come from plants as well. At one point I related to her by comparing her love of McChickens and Takis chips to my love of tea. We use what we have, what God gives us, how God made us, in order to reach out in love.
As is with my tea, we all have things that we enjoy, love and find valuable. These things must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good of the particular moment, for the sake of our relationship to our kids. However, as I have expressed in other posts, children do not take anything away from us, they add to us. Often times the things we think we loose or that we sacrifice aren’t really lost, they are simply changed, enriched. Conformed to the child instead of ourselves.
When you sprint, your focus is not on endurance, it is on speed. It is time for action, not training. It is time to use what you have, you don’t have time to change your shoes or to do research on the best line of sports clothes. It’s time to use what you have learned, time to test the training you have received. In foster care, when a child comes into your life, you must immediately use what you have in life to help the child cope. You can learn as you go but you must hit the ground running. The same is true when your child comes to you with an unexpected problem or you find out they’re engaging in destructive behaviors. You must respond NOW.
I remember several times C would say in frustration “I don’t speak your guys language” in response to things we would do or say. It was obvious she wasn’t referring to the English language. Our day to day routines and ways of thinking were many times foreign to her and this is why we did our best to speak her language… by listening to her music, eating the food she likes, and paying attention to her interests.
With a set moving date for our kids, we knew we had to focus on what was most important: Sharing Christ’s unconditional love and mercy. That meant other things took a back seat on our list of priorities, it meant buying food we wouldn’t normally buy, it meant staying up late, it meant breaking personal goals of things like reading or working out. This is not to say that healthy eating, proper sleep, and other things are not important. They are, but they are simply not what matter most.
On a particularly late night, I went to bed and let Gabe do the night time routine with C. Having fallen asleep around 8:30 I woke up past 10:30 and realized my husband wasn’t yet in bed. C usually fell asleep around 9:30. Once he came back I asked him if everything was ok and he told me that he was given the opportunity to share the gospel with C. After having read and watched The Chronicles of Narnia, the parallels of Aslan with Christ left her very receptive and curious to know more about Jesus. So starting to read a children’s book talking about the account of Adam and Eve in the garden, C began to deliberately ask to read it from the Bible. She expressed wanting to eat from the tree of life and after having prayed with Gabe for God to fill her with that fruit, she fell asleep with the Bible in her arms. All of it initiated by C herself.
Was that one moment worth the hassle, the discomfort and the heartbreak of only 20 days? Absolutely.
People often say “I don’t know how you do it” in regards to being foster parents, and to be honest I always say “I don’t know either”. Because it most definitely isn’t in me or my husband to deliberately put ourselves in the way of emotional wrecks. The only way I can explain it is that it is indeed not us doing these things. It is God. Each step we have taken in this journey has been nothing short of a supernatural enablement. This is not exclusive to us, you too can have this enablement. You only have to say “yes”. Yes, to a year and 4 months and yes to 20 days. When you say yes, He will teach you how to carve arrowheads out of tea leaves and spell love with chicken sandwiches.