Have you ever extended your arms and asked God to place into them a purpose? Have you ever asked Him to fill your heart with passion? Have you ever extended your arms to God asking to serve Him and instead feel the ice cold droplets of rain on your skin? Have you expected to be washed in sunshine and instead gotten soaked by the heavy deluge of a storm threatening to knock you over?
Have you ever extended your arms and felt the weight of a child being placed there? The weight of a child. One you did not carry inside, one that is unknown to you, whose face you had never seen, whose name is foreign, who’s journey has been nothing like yours. Have you felt the weight of their helplessness, their brokenness, their fear? Have you felt the weight of that responsibility, crushed by your limited abilities, pulverized by the pain in their eyes?
We all crave purpose, we want to find something in our lives that is worth living for, something that will fill us with joy and also allow us to share that joy with others. If we ask God to reveal to us this purpose for our lives, we must also accept the pain that will come with it and the risk that we may never see the full fruition of our work. Throughout our foster care journey, we have loved kids who we still get to see and keep in contact with but we have also loved kids who we know nothing about today. Uncertainty is woven into the fabric of foster care, but we still choose it every day if it guarantees opportunities to share the love of Christ with families who need it. As the old, cliche goes, “every rose has it’s thorns!” and foster care is a sharp, but beautiful rose. We have stretched out our arms to God several times over the years and this time when we did, God placed there two little girls, one age 6 and one age 10. As with all the kids who have came into our home, there was an adjustment period, a time when I felt that I couldn’t, nor wanted, to do this. However as I have learned, after some time, I am reinforced and reminded of why we do this and why we love it. Each child who has shared our home has taught us a lot, but these girls have really turned our world upside down.
Although we have been fostering for about 3 and 1/2 years, our most recent experience makes us feel like this is actually the first time. Not that our other experiences were not difficult, but I would say we “got lucky” in the sense that the kids we have previously cared for did not display so many symptoms of trauma. What does trauma look like? It looks like a 6 year old screaming at the top of their lungs for two hours saying they want to go home, saying they hate everyone and everything in the your house. It looks like her screaming for someone to stay with her but then throwing stuff at them and yelling at them to leave her alone, it’s asking for help but not letting anyone touch her. It’s observing that your 10 year old kid doesn’t like the crust on their sandwich and cutting it off for them and them getting upset that you did that because “they wanted it” yet still finding the crust of their sandwich left in their lunch box every day. For some, a reaction like this this may be part of growing up and trying to assert independence from parents, but for our kids, for our 10 year old, it is most likely because she’s trying to desperately remain attached to her family. Your mom is the one whose supposed know you don’t like crusts on your sandwich and kindly cut them off for you, not this person only met a few months ago. Adapting to trauma affected children is sometimes having to refrain from doing anything intuitively because it’s a trigger, it’s learning to always ask even though you have seen consistent patterns of behavior. Trauma is crying yourself to sleep, missing home, missing your family. It is the space between loving your foster family and pushing away from them, it is the fear of loving one and forgetting the other.
Something that we took note of first few weeks that our girls came to us was the fact that they shared about so many good times they had with their family. Many wholesome, wonderful, perfectly normal times. Sometimes I still wonder why they are here and not with their family. People often believe that kids in foster care always come from families who do not love them or care about them. It’s easy to believe that 100% of their lives prior to entering care was bad, extremely abusive or extremely neglectful. We imagine kids that were never fed, never hugged, never bathed, and never spoken to. Of course there exists those extreme cases, but I believe that the majority of kids in care are kids who have been well loved, who have been cared for and who have had value in the lives of the families they were removed from.
People make mistakes, sadly, sometimes very serious, selfish, and dangerous mistakes and decisions that carry huge consequences. Sometimes people are trapped in the toxic cycle of their family history and do now know any other way to live so they repeat the story. Other times they fall into an unfortunate situation they cannot control. Still others are victims of false accusations and unfair consequences. Give kids in foster care the dignity of expressing the love and joy they have experienced from their first families. Listen, celebrate, empathize and believe their stories. Let them keep and cherish their good times.
Something else that stuck out those first weeks was the fact that they seemed so well adapted, so happy, so calm… there had been no tears, no crying, no questions for a long time. It felt odd, I know if I was a kid and was suddenly moved into a strangers house, I would not feel comfortable at all. These girls seemed right at home. This is a trademark of children who have experienced unstable environments and who have bounced around so much they haven’t been able to form healthy attachments. If you ever visit children’s homes (orphanages) around the world, you’ll notice how friendly, and seemingly trusting these kids can be even though they just met you. I remember my experiences of visiting several children’s homes in Mexico during mission trips and many of the kids would automatically be pulling me by the hand asking me to play with them or sitting on my lap within minutes. They could be your best friend in an instant. At first it may feel sweet and special until you realize this is what they do with every person they meet. Their apparent trust is actually a deep mistrust in the ability of adults to be consistent and present to meet their needs.
After about a month and a half, things started to go downhill quick with our girls. Frequent and serious tantrums from our 6 year old and lots of moodiness and crying from our 10 year old. To be honest, it was about time, and in a sense, we were relieved that the girls finally started to process what was happening to them instead of hiding it all inside. It also told us they were comfortable enough to show their true emotions. Although this was expected, there came a point when I felt like giving up. I felt helpless, unable to do anything to help them, I doubted every action I took and word I said. What was I doing wrong? Would this ever end? Maybe I’m not the right person for these girls, have I failed? For a time I felt incredibly defeated and hopeless, but I could not allow myself to stay there. For the girls sake I needed to reach out and ask for help, if I drowned, they did too. I asked those closest to me to help us pray and I’ll say that this is one of the times that I clearly felt those prayers embrace me and carry me through the storm. I was able to keep afloat with the support of those who prayed for us as well as by reaching out to others in the foster care community. Social media can be a powerful tool if used in the right way, through it I connected with many other foster parents either going through the same thing or having had already been there and done that. They helped to encourage me and reassure me that I was doing the right things for our girls and shared a lot of advice and suggestions that helped. The girls have since then been improving, they still miss their home and family every day, but they’re learning to express those emotions in healthy ways. One of the greatest expressions of love you can show a child is to refuse to give up on them no matter what.
I stretched out my arms asking God to use me and He has placed into them 5 kids in the course of 4 years. Feeling the weight of a new child is always terrifying… Am I strong enough? who am I to be chosen to care for them? What do I know about life that they need from me? Can I really handle the responsibility of a LIFE?
Do not ask God to use you if you are not willing to get wrecked, don’t ask to serve Him if you are only expecting to get washed in the glow of warm sunshine. When you ask Him to give you purpose, don’t expect it to be comfortable. Expect the rain, expect the pain, expect the tears. When you welcome these things as part of Christ’s sufferings, the rewards will be soul healing. Some chapters may still end painfully, less than ideal, but when your heart is in the right place, you will gain wisdom, compassion, and a deeper understanding of love. There has been nothing in my life that has changed me as deeply as fostering has. Nothing has came close to the richness, the joy and the fulfillment it has brought to my family.
The secret to handling the weight of a child is to put them down into the arms of Him who has the strength to hold both YOU and the child in His arms. The only way we can learn to hold a child is to be a held child.