Foster care is just as much about us pulling a child out of a broken story as it is about us being pulled into one.
Every story of abuse, neglect and brokenness dismantles a piece of the dividing wall that once separated their normal from ours and extends the opportunity for both normals to be radically redefined forever. Their normal exchanged for ours, and ours for theirs. Now an entirely new normal being written together.
In 2012 we were pulled into a story that would forever change ours. What would have been just another normal Wednesday ended up not being normal at all, and would ultimately redefine what our normal would be from there on out.
At 7:30 that evening our first foster placement was brought to our home. We knew very little of her short three-day life but just enough to feel the weight of what was taking place. She needed a safe home to stay in - we were honored to offer ours. While love and excitement welcomed her in that night we were fully aware brokenness and tragedy are what brought her there. The gravity of that sat upon us as we finished setting up her room, stocking up on diapers and preparing bottles before signing paperwork at the kitchen table that would forever change not just the fate of her life, but of ours as well.
RECONCILING TWO NORMALS
In the beginning we thought foster care would simply be about bringing a child from an unstable, broken place into our comfortable and safe one. We would pull a child out of their dysfunctional normal and bring them into our better one. While that is in part the case, in the end we have learned that in many ways it’s quite the opposite. I now see that while we had welcomed this little girl into the security of our home, it was her that had actually invited us into something much deeper and more vulnerable - her story.
Although short, it was full and extended beyond just her; we became a part of it that night and it a part of us forever. The sense of comfort and safety we had come to know as normal and expected was shattered under the weight a brokenness and instability that came wrapped in a blanket and nestled in a car seat. In many ways she wrecked our lives that night, for the better, dismantling what we thought we knew and where we thought we were going by introducing her normal into ours and forcing us to somehow reconcile the two together.
I found you simply cannot bring brokenness into your home and not be broken by it. You cannot hold abused innocence in your arms and not on some level lose a sense of your own innocence because of it. You cannot hear stories of the deep fractures in other peoples lives and not see the cracks in your own, and understand that on some level we are all the same - broken humans in need of redemption. You cannot open your heart to them and not have it transformed by them. You can never unsee what you’ve now seen or unknow what you now know or unhear what you’ve now heard or unfeel what you’ve now felt. These things are always a part of you, and a piece of you is now always a part of them. They become your story – your new normal. The world as you know it is a different place - a bigger place, a more nuanced place, a more distorted place between what you used to know about your own little world and what you now know about the rest of it. Everything changes.
PULLING BACK THE VEIL
While it could be said that foster care is the means by which we may change a child’s life, it’s equally true – if not more true – that foster care is the process through which God will radically transform ours as well. Their story changes ours, not with easy and light things, but with hard and heavy ones that expose the cracks and faults in our own and begin to produce new and better ones as a result.
Our world was too small before. Our faith was too shallow. Our theology too narrow. Our dreams too temporary. Our family too isolated. Our Christianity too comfortable. Our worries too finite. Our relationships too homogenous. Our prayers too selfish. Our parenting too reactionary.
I’m convinced we didn’t rescue a little girl from her situation as much as a little girl rescued us from ours. She pulled back the veil of the world around us and showed us a broken side of it we had all but isolated ourselves from. She pulled back the veil of our hearts as well and showed us the same.
THE GOSPEL IN FOSTER CARE
At the heart of the gospel is a radically pursuing God who went to extravagant lengths to enter our story. He’s a God that scripture says will flip a house upside down in order to find a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), would leave the 99 in order to chase down one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), would throw a lavish party for a son who was once lost but has now been found (Luke 15:11-32), and in the most eternally epic of proportions, would step out of the comfort of His glory in order to embrace us in the brokenness of our humanity – wrapping Himself in the flesh that would both allow Him to be with us but would also ultimately be torn for us (Philippians 2:6-8). This is the heart of God decisively demonstrated through the gospel – He stepped into our brokenness and was broken by our brokenness so that we don’t have to be broken anymore. That’s the gospel.
The beauty of foster care reverberates upon the backdrop of the brokenness which surrounds it. In light of the gospel it is our privilege to crawl into the story of others because Jesus has ultimately entered into ours. It is the call to wrap ourselves in their brokenness and willingly be broken by it - to exchange our normal for theirs and theirs for ours and begin to write an entirely new and better normal together.
In the end, everything changes - you change them, but perhaps more importantly, they change us.
Nothing can or will or should ever be the same.