With each new phone call from Children Services, we have a decision to make: we can either decline or agree to care for the child.
Last week I was faced with establishing whether we could practically and responsibly add a newborn to our clan, which already included two-year-old Moriah and ten-month-old “Baby Bear.” After thinking through sleeping arrangements and testing to ensure three car seats would fit in the backseat of our car, I agreed to pick up “Sugar” from the hospital in a few days.
Although I knew the days (nights) ahead would be tiring, I genuinely looked forward to bringing the little bundle into our home. Sugar would likely be transitioning to a family member in only a few weeks, I was told.
I often say that we love on our foster children when they’re with us and pray for them when they leave us. But, more accurately, our love for the child is demonstrated in how we love the birth family.
Recently I saw a former foster child with her mom while grocery shopping. I was encouraged by mom’s motivation to overcome so much. And she was making positive choices for her daughter’s future!
A few days later Baby Bear’s mom shared that she had been in foster care as a teen. She had lived in three different foster homes. She was “truly grateful” that he was in our particular home. She added, “I’m working on learning to be the mom that I never had. I can’t wait to get my little man back so we can put the past behind us and move forward and never look back again.”
Now, to be fair, we don’t deserve ANY credit for the progress these courageous women are making. And, not everyone sings our praises. Haha! Nevertheless, it is a privilege to witness determination like that – and to know we got to be a small part.
We view our role as foster parents like a relay race. We take our turn running the circuit. There is anticipation as we wait to be handed the baton. There is anxiety that the handoffs might not be smooth. There is exhaustion as we sprint our leg of the race. Yet, in the whole of a child’s life, our turn was just one small part of the team effort.
Plus, as we practice our part, it gets more natural.
Over the first few days with Sugar, we were showered with love from family and friends. One invited Moriah to spend the night, another brought us dinner, and others messaged me to check in. I was reminded that we are not alone in our care of vulnerable kids – and we really CANNOT do it alone.
That week, Sugar’s case manager asked us to arrange a visit with the family member who was awaiting approval to care for her. I agreed to travel two hours to make the visit easier. Being a guest in the home of your foster child’s family can sound awkward. And I anticipated it would be weird as I sat on the side watching her hold the baby.
Yet, my concerns were eased when I met her. She was kind and welcoming. And appreciative.
She asked me about my faith right away. We shared the same Hope. She was my sister; she was not a stranger after all. She told me that I sounded “calm” on the phone, and she was relieved her grandchild was in the home of a Christian couple.
She shared with me the struggle of not being able to make decisions for your adult children. She repeatedly said, “Every one in the family deals with the consequences.” They were all learning and helping one another, too.
I listened. I shared our story. I listened more. I reassured her that we believe families should be preserved and kept together when possible. But ultimately she encouraged me. I was blessed to spend the afternoon visiting with her.
As I drove home with Sugar asleep in the backseat, I thought about the love I had experienced.
Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
–The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13
On that day, loving my neighbor did not seem like a “service” but, rather, the truest and most right action. It was fitting to JUST LOVE!
A few days later I was sitting in the local WIC office with Sugar. The nutritionist was asking personal questions related to the baby being in care, and I answered as vaguely as possible without being rude. She did not need to know the details. I finally said, “The babies in our care will likely never remember us. My husband and I believe our real service is to their families. They can trust that their children are safe and loved so that they can fully focus on other things. They can take that time to make changes that will last. Some of them have never been encouraged or given hope.”
Her blank stare was interrupted when she realized I was now silent.
Then she shared her own story.
Nearly 20 years ago, she and her young daughter had left an unsafe home to escape an alcoholic man and his friends. She packed her truck and moved to a college town where she knew no one. She lived in campus housing for families while finishing a degree.
She said she saw her past in many of her clients’ lives. The girls seemed trapped in a cycle. She wanted them to know it could be different.
When she looked up and our eyes met, she said, “I never thought about foster care as a way to a better life for the parents.”
I nodded, and said that we do our best to encourage each mom to press on. We tell her that her child loves her and needs her to be healthy. We try to show her love.
She agreed: “They don’t need to hear more judgment. They already know what brought you into their lives.”
I encouraged the nutritionist to share her personal story more. I added that she might consider becoming a CASA volunteer. As a Court Appointed Advocate, her voice (and experience) might make a difference for teens who don’t want to listen to foster parents. She excitedly took notes and pledged to learn more.
As I drove home from that encounter, I remembered a sign in our home that hangs near photos of each of our foster children. It reads “LOVE MAKES FAMILY.” I think the phrase was originally meant to mean “love is what creates family, not blood.” However–the more I interact with birth families–I am learning that it may mean “love has the power to add people to your family, whether blood or not.”
We have a growing family. And we will continue to say “yes” to new opportunities to love because God enables His people to complete the work to which He has called them.
We pray regularly for birth families — past, present, and future. They are continually on our minds. Moreover, Love has imprinted them on our hearts forever.
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Joey and Elaine are a licensed adoptive and foster family in Ohio. They hope to give Moriah a permanent sibling by adopting again. Learn more about their family here.