**Don't read what I'm not writing**
A couple of days ago I came across a post by a well-respected adoptive blogger. After a number of international adoptions, this blogger's advocacy efforts on behalf of the orphan inspire and challenge me.
Yet, this particular post addressed foster care. Though the writer honestly acknowledged little knowledge of the foster care world or process, the normal foster facts were presented, and the post was closed with the idea that if foster adoptions are free, you're "paid" for foster care, and the need is so present - deciding to do it should be easy!
At first, this gave me a blow, and just like I don't want anyone "to read what I'm not writing," I also do not want to read into what anyone else is not writing. Because I realized, if I had written this post two years ago, my words would be so different.
But I'm two years into this, and signing on for foster care is not easy.
We've been reflective this last month, possibly too reflective. I think part of it is the ending of three long placements, part of it was our renewal, and part of it is that deep down, I grieve our adoption a little every time my birthday rolls around, since this is when we began the process five years ago.
Last night, Jamie took my hand and said, "If I had known, Catie, what I know now about foster care, I would have never admitted God was leading us to this. I would have run so far and so hard. But sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I can't believe this is me. This is us. I can't believe we are continually immersed into lives that are messy. I can't believe we've brought The Jerry Springer Show into our home, and I realize that if I had never listened to God, I wouldn't be that man I look at in the mirror. And these ways Jesus is growing in me, I want that more than anything."
My friends who have adopted both domestically and internationally - to see their faith in finances, loving birthfamilies, engaging in a new culture, and walking the hard road of healing, they amaze me. I see Jesus in their answer to the call, and I rise to bless them because they make me want Jesus.
But, there are a few things I wish I had known about foster care and its unique sphere in the call of orphan care before we moved away from pursuing international adoption and domestic adoptions with two different agencies.
1. Fostering is a lifestyle. I remember when Jamie explained to me that God had put this on his heart. He told me he didn't want foster care to be something we did; he simply wanted it to become our lifestyle. It has, and most fostering families I know, it is their lifestyle. What's the difference? When foster care is something we do, those children are our projects. When it is our lifestyle, those children, their families, this calling, it is our life as a whole family. There is not our children and those children. We're a family, with all the mess together. Ministry is a lifestyle, whatever you are called to. It is one of the few things we do on this earth that we will not be doing in heaven, so own it.
2. The vast majority of these children in foster care do not want to be adopted. Again, don't read what I'm not writing. These children do want a family. They do want a safe place. But adoption often means they are forever sealing the deal that their momma or daddy will not get it together. I remember taking Bis Sis to get her nails done. She was incredibly verbal that she was a foster child. As soon as she mentioned it to the woman doing our nails and hair, she was asked how long she had lived with us. At that time it had been a year. The woman responded with, Don't you want to be adopted by your momma? To which, Sis replied, She's not my momma. She loves for me and cares for me, but she's the one cheering for my momma to get better. So many people come into foster care classes with the quiet thought that the placement will end up in adoption, and it may. But that child, deep down, will never forget his momma and daddy, no matter how bad the choices made were. It is not our job to equate adoption as the equivalent of truly loving a child. Sometimes true love is being committed to that child no matter what their longings are. Family is not always defined by a name or judge's seal, and sometimes the way we want to love can get in the way of what real love is.
3. The scars will never go away, and we can't control what God allows into our home. When we filled out our first child request form of what we would be willing to take, we said a little girl, six-months or younger, minimal drug history, no sexual abuse, or criminal history from parents. We gotta 14-year-old Chinese girl, who couldn't speak a slap of English, with a medical history and a file of needs. Go figure.
And it was the very story that became our beacon of hope.
So when we filled it out this time, we honestly left it blank. In each moment, God directs us in His perfect wisdom, not our own. The reality in adoption and foster care is we often think that if we can get them young enough, we can erase the past that is too painful for them to bear.
Often that is the very past God has designed to become the platform of their story.
Did you know the claim is that over 80% of the children in the foster care system have been sexually abused in some way....that's all ages folks. Let that sink in. But the darker truth is the exposure of this abuse is almost never known when a child comes into care. So, I can say I won't take children with this history, but ultimately it's in God's hands, and in the cases where things were exposed later, God has always been big enough to meet us there.
But what I've come to learn is that my job is not to erase the scars. My job is to promote healing. The scars will be there, always. Some are seen, and some are deep inside. I am called to meet that child where they are, and in restful pursuit continually take them before the One who bears scars for them.
4. We live in a fallen world, and so we're dealing with a fallen system. DHR is not the enemy. They are tired, overworked and underpaid. Some have been in this game so long, their hearts are fighting cynicism. Some are green because their position is being turned over for the 5th time this year. In either case, they are trying to advocate for a child, just as we are. If I believe fostering is a lifestyle, I'm owning my relationship with my social workers, lawyers, CASA workers, judges, and all the others. I'm believing I've been placed under this worker for this season to bring the Hope of the Gospel. That is a calling.
5. Foster care is not free. I've read in several different places about how foster care is such an easy way to care for the orphan because you get paid to do it. **Newsflash** Hate to burst your bubble, but if you think you're even remotely going to break even from having a child in your home, you may want to look elsewhere. We shop at the thrift store for our own children in order for our "fosters" to have new items of their own. In terms of reimbursement, we have never, ever broken even. But that's not the reason we do this. We are not babysitters. We are these children's parents for this season and their family forever. I'm not a mom to get paid.
6. They never go away. Even when they go home, they are engraved on our hearts. I used to be hurt when people would say to me that these aren't my real children. I wouldn't say that to an adoptive mom. If I don't claim these children as my own in this season, the only other who will is usually the state. I don't have to have the name of Mom to be a parent and embrace a child as my own. I used to wonder if that was a possibility, but now I know its the truth. Not a day goes by that I don't place my hand on Makayla's handprint and cry out to the Father on her behalf. That's the role of a momma, to carry these children around in our hearts with hopeful intercession, whether they're biological, adoptive or foster. And sometimes, in God's mercy, when they go home, you don't lose a family member, but gain numbers exponentially. That's when God blows you away.
7. You can never go back. When you choose a lifestyle of ministry, when you answer a call, you can never go back. You may take respite, and it is needed. You may even take a break, but what you have seen, the despair and hopelessness of a world without the Gospel, is burned into your memory. I think that is the mercy of Christ. II Corinthians 4:10, We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be revealed. We have the light, and though we take needed seasons of rest, we continue to fight because we know one day our fight will produce a harvest of rest for eternity.
If I had known then, what I know now, I still think I would have screamed, and punched and jumped from the bed onto Jamie's head. But I would also know that though I'm not chasing after the face of one certain child, I am chasing after the face of my Savior, and as I welcome each of these children, these mommas and these daddies into my life, I welcome the very one who died for me.