From my friend, Anna Lee
Preface: I am a 50-year-old mama with 20 children who are legally ours and another 30 or so that have come through our home. I grew up as a foster sibling to medically fragile children and then became a foster and adoptive parent when I married. I have been living this lifestyle for 40 years.
Sometimes, I feel that I’ve become too jaded and tired to recruit foster and adoptive families. But then I remember that in the face of thousands of obstacles, my husband and I continue to choose to follow this path. That speaks volumes to me about our relationship to our calling.
I know that my views are not universal. There are plenty of people who will tell you to do what feels good. What makes you happy. I disagree with that basic premise. I don’t believe we were put on this earth to find “happiness” for ourselves based on whatever we feel at any given moment.
In that light, my words do not address the tremendous need for foster and adoptive parents of older children (which I define as any child old enough to remember details of their past). The need is well-documented.
If you are reading this and you are already a foster or adoptive parent, you are likely to understand, but may need conviction to endure this journey.
If you are thinking about fostering or adopting, I challenge you to read all the way to the end. My approach is not particularly designed to make you feel good about yourself or about the potential impact you might have on these children.
Likewise, it is not designed to dramatize the incredible needs through sob stories. They are too numerous to repeat here.
Instead, I have chosen to focus on God’s calling and the need for you to carefully examine whether fostering and adopting older children (or any children at all) is your calling.
Within a week of living with us, the truth spilled out from our new 6 ½ year-old daughter. From the backseat of my Suburban she revealed with determination, “I’m going to make you hate me. I’m going to make you send me away.”
She was too young to realize that she was showing her hand, but old enough to know the drill.
If she can intentionally behave so badly that we have no choice but to fear her.
If she can “act” her way out of our home before we have a chance to get to know her and decide that we don’t like her or that she is too hard to keep.
If she can create and/or determine the events that make us send her away BEFORE she has a chance to care about us.
Then - in some small way - she feels like she is in control. And control is something she desperately seeks.
Unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance.
How do you persuade someone to open up his home, his life, his family, his church, and his heart to lost and hurting children that need temporary or permanent care?
How do you ask someone to set aside there own desires and make what could be a long-term commitment to someone that they haven’t even met and may not connect with right away?
In a country where we promise to stay in our marriages “until death do us part,” yet even active professing Christians regularly divorce, how do you communicate to another that unconditional love and commitment is a choice, but once given shouldn’t be broken?
How do you explain that - after a short honeymoon phase - for the most part these young people will act like they don’t want to be a part of your life; they will challenge you, your patience and your self-control in hundreds of ways on a daily basis; and they are likely to reject you and your values for longer than you can imagine or justify.
How do you help someone hear the calling on his or her life, when it goes contrary to the “I deserve to be happy” American philosophy, and the “God wants me to be happy” Christian agenda?
How can my commentary compete with famous evangelical Christians like Pat Robertson, who last August declared to a single woman with three adopted children that was having trouble finding a relationship: “A man does not want to take on the United Nations.” Mr. Robertson went on to describe a dear friend that adopted “a little kid from an orphanage” that was brain damaged and grew up “weird.”
How can I compete with the fear of weird, perpetuated by famous Christians?
Before Mr. Robertson realized the error of his words, he continued, “You just never know what’s been done to a child before you get that child. What kind of sexual abuse there’s been, what kind of cruelty, what kind of food deprivation etc., etc., etc.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhyJpLIpRVA. He concluded that thought saying, “You don’t have to take on other people’s problems.”
Respectfully, I say, “No sir. We may have no idea about their past experiences. The kids didn’t make the choice to be abandoned, neglected or abused. And yes, even with our best efforts, they might grow up “weird.”
In his defense, Mr. Robertson did suggest that people can help orphans in other ways, “but that doesn’t mean that you have to bring them into your home.”
Unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance. It’s a choice.
Looking at Mr. Robertson’s words in their best possible light, he unwittingly makes the point that you have to choose to foster or adopt. No one can make you do it if you don’t want to. To that degree, I agree.
Absolutely, positively no one should foster or adopt if he or she is not called to it.
Notice, I did not say “if you don’t feel called” to it.
It’s too easy to deny the feeling to do something that is going to be hard and change your life.
So the real question is: Who is called?
I wish I had that answer. But that is a question that I must defer to God and his Believer.
When people learn that we foster and adopt so many children, almost every person says the same thing, “I could never do what you are doing.”
And I have a stock response. “Then don’t do what I am doing. Do whatever God is calling you to do. And I promise. He is calling you to something.”
I know this is truth because of words like those found in Mark 10:45, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I wish I could cast my web of judgment and tell you directly that YOU should be caring for the orphans because knowing that there are no more lost or hurting children is a BIG deal for me.
But the call for all is to service. What that service looks like will be different for each person because there are a tremendous variety of needs to be fulfilled.
The only thing I can be sure of is that God is calling more people to foster and adopt than are answering the call.
We can choose. We are given that privilege. But that choice requires more. Unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance.
As Believers, we have been unconditionally adopted into God’s family. He is our Abba Father. We are his children. He loves us unconditionally. But, as a member of God’s family, we are asked to set aside our own desires and accept God’s will for our lives. God opens his home, his life, his church and his heart to the lost and hurting.
Like these lost and hurting children, sometimes in our struggle to walk with God we are angry or defiant and we don’t want to walk with him. We blame him for our losses. We challenge his patience and wrath daily. We often reject his values, just like stubborn children.
Are we any different from the children who test and challenge us and our commitment to them?
In my mind and heart, I believe that our Christian walk is designed to make us more like Jesus. To follow his lead and his instruction. To attempt, as best we can, to do what Jesus did. If that is true, then how can we deny our role in caring for those who are needy?
After I wrote those words, it occurred to me to check the beliefs of my mind and heart with God’s Word. I Googled “act more like Jesus.” A verse came up that I had never noticed before in reference to fostering and adopting. 1 Peter 2:21-23. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
You don’t get any special credit for enduring punishment for the consequences of your sin. It’s expected.
But if you do good and even in doing good you suffer and endure, God appreciates it.
The words that really caught my attention for the first time, perhaps ever, is that we have all been called to suffer. I tend to think of suffering as it relates to pain or loss. But when I looked up the word, it also means, to “allow something, to be adversely affected, or to undergo something unpleasant.”
Somehow, these words in Peter explain so much about my not so popular views.
Unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance. We have a choice to accept our calling. To suffer and endure. To take up the cross. To be more like the Savior we profess to worship.
I spent almost a month trying to figure out the words I wanted to convey to those who crossed my path. I didn’t feel like I was supposed to tell you about our foster and adoptive success stories, although there are quite a few.
I didn’t feel like I was supposed to dwell on how good you will feel doing the hardest thing you will ever do.
I didn’t feel like I should focus on the rewards that come from following God’s calling on your life.
Perhaps it is because I’m a little old fashioned and I really really really don’t like to reward my kids for doing what they are supposed to do because it is the right thing to do.
I know rewards work – it is called behavior therapy – but I despise rewards for what is expected or required in life. It goes against everything I feel inside and everything I want to teach my kids about the value of doing what is good or right simply because it is good or right.
My thoughts suddenly seem so clear.
Fostering and adopting is not something you do because you will see results or benefit from it. It is something you do because you are called to do it.
Sometimes, it feels far more like suffering that anything else. But God has never failed to let me know that he values what I do. Sometimes, that is shown through a changed life. Other times, he shows me that if I do whatever I do for His glory, then I’ve done my part regardless of the outcome.
It is important to understand that you don’t have to know how to do this incredibly difficult job before you accept the calling. You don’t have to have all the answers. What I do is not based solely on my experience, knowledge or perfection. It is messy. And sometimes ugly. I act selfishly more times than not. And I get angry and frustrated and tired. I want more time for myself. I want the problems to simply go away.
But God equips. God provides. We are the vessel. Ironically, God will work far more on Us and our character than We will ever do for the children he brings into our life.
All this takes me back to the story of when my newly adopted daughter challenged me at that stop sign during the first week she joined our family, I had very little experience with older children joining our family? But I knew what to say.
I glared at my 6 1/2 –year-old in the rearview mirror and said firmly, “You can make me angry and you can make me not like you. But you can’t make me send you away. We promised to love you and keep you and we will, no matter how you act.”
When I said that, I had no way of knowing the impact those words might have on her little mind and spirit. But two years before she died in an automobile accident, she wrote some significant words in a Mother’s Day letter to me, “I still remember the first night I met you in Missouri. You didn’t phase me a bit. I thought you’d be gone in no time. I played that game way too many times, I knew how to win. But life has proven me wrong. I can’t win everything and I can’t do it all by myself.”
My heart’s desire is that you are convicted to think hard about your calling in this life. I’m not trying to guilt you. Nor to persuade you. Because both of those will lead to a short-term commitment to whatever you do.
I want undeniable conviction for whatever your calling.
As a foster or adoptive parent, you will certainly need a deep-seeded desire and commitment to follow through no matter what. And there are likely to be a whole lot of “no matter whats.”
It’s hard. Very hard. But I have NEVER wished that I was given another calling.
Post script: For other things to read that support my thoughts, here are a few sites to visit.
Continue to follow Anna's challenging thoughts and faithful commitment to her journey at Every Kid a Home.
Because of the One who faithfully calls us,