Fostering and Belonging

Last week I was able to spend time with friends–people I have served with and known for more than 25 years. “You remember when we first met?” my friend asked me. “You had my parents over for dinner, and I was home from college. You made venison shish-kabob.” I was a dirt-poor missionary getting by on the local food pantry and road kill–literally. And his family was so kind to me back then.

We are all closer to 50 years old than 20 now, but the kindness continues. Annually, my friends enfold me into their family and let me see God at work in their marriage and parenting. We drink lots of coffee, stoke the fire in the sauna, and discuss kids and technology, theology and history.

And what a family it is! Children! Biological, internationally and domestically adopted, and fostered–and all wrestling with the dogs in the snow, running to help Mommy with one of the babies, and snuggling by the Christmas tree to listen to Daddy read a book after supper.

Sounds idyllic, right? But for this family, and the other dozen families I know who are fostering, time is often filled with supervised visits, social workers, doctors, and kids who are delivered and removed with alarming regularity.

Kids are abandoned, not once, but time and time again. Abused, ignored, left in a car seat for months on end. Disabled toddlers are locked in a closet without sunshine or a sandwich. Siblings lose track of each other. Belongings are whittled down to the contents of a plastic grocery bag.

Mom tries to pull herself up by her own broken bootstraps only to stumble repetitively under the weight of meth or delusions of grandeur. Men take advantage of the system, of the women, and the children suffer. “We will be back here again next year with another child,” the judge surmises.

The System is no better. . .it recognizes the necessity of family, but doesn’t seem to understand the depravity of man and moms and grandmoms who cannot care for themselves, let alone a baby. Children become pawns in the adults’ power plays. The System is hopeful with no proof that hope is warranted.

So back and forth a little girl goes–to mom, to grandma, to a foster family. Mom does her 30 days in rehab, and the cycle repeats, several times. She’s barely out of toddlerhood, but doesn’t know where she belongs. She repetitively asks her foster parents for clarification when they get in a car anywhere, “Are we going to grandma’s house? Are we going to your house?”

Time goes on, and the System, hope against hope, attempts reunification–again. “Are we going to my mom’s house?”

In a moment of sobriety, Mom recognizes her incapacity and calls the foster family: “Come get her and take her home.”

But the little girl is confused, “Are we going to your house?”

But months go by, and the day comes when she gets in the car at the grocery store and asks her foster mom, “Are we going home?”

Home. She belongs, and she feels everything that word is supposed to mean. Not cold, not hunger, not drugs. Instead, home is a sure thing–consistent, warm, and nourishing.

These foster families who love these children are my heroes. They have all had their hearts ripped out. Pathological liars have pointed fingers at them. Children wounded in other families have turned vicious when challenged by love. And yet, these parents keep answering the phone, or the doorbell. It is hard, but, as my friends reminded me, “It’s the right thing to do.”

And as they love, they show us all what our God looks like:

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;

    lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;

his name is the Lord;

    exult before him!

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows

    is God in his holy habitation.

God settles the solitary in a home. . .

Psalm 68:4-6

Someday, the brokenness of this world will no longer be slung on the backs of bruised toddlers. Even so, Lord, quickly come. Until then, let’s pray for these broken families and for the ones who create a place of belonging through fostering.

Are you wondering how you might help, maybe how to pray with more understanding? My church, Grace Baptist, has done a great job encouraging and supporting families who are willing to foster and adopt. Here are some resources Grace has collected and produced for your consideration.

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