The questions, comments and curiosities about foster care come with the territory when you bring a child into your home. They're an ever-present part of the whole experience. While most encounters are hugely encouraging and civil, some are not so much. Yet even in those, although it may come across as such at times, I'm convinced the majority of people are not intentionally malicious or insulting. I believe people are wondering - wondering what they are seeing, how to make sense of it and if they can go on with their normal lives as if they did not know what they have now seen to be true.
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Christmas is the story of a good Father going to extravagant lengths in order to adopt those who have been separated from Him. It is the celebration of God seeing the plight of His people and responding with the greatest gift of love this world has ever known - Himself. Not merely for us or near us in theory, God now put on flesh and became one of us in humanity - entering the darkness and brokenness of our story to bring us a brighter and better one in Him. In what we now know as the Christmas story, scripture consistently speaks of the incarnation, the act of God wrapping Himself in the flesh of an infant child, in beautifully vivid and forever-altering terms.
Imagine three friends come upon a raging river. They see children in the water rushing down the rapids towards a waterfall. One friend immediately jumps into the river and begins pulling as many children out as he can. Knowing there’s a waterfall downstream, the second friend runs down river and tries to catch as many children as he can before they fall to their deaths. The third friend, however, wonders why these children are in the river in the first place. He runs upstream to find out how these kids are getting thrown in and to stop whoever is doing it. All three friends are running in three different directions, but all of them are right and necessary places...
My brother-in-law and I live in the same town. Attend the same church. Eat at the same restaurants. Play on the same softball team and hang out at the same family functions. But aside from those things, we couldn't be more different. My career has mostly involved standing on stages speaking to audiences or sitting behind computer screens writing at coffee shops. His, on the other hand, has in large part been spent in helicopters, flying top-secret missions into parts of the world most of us have never heard of to train or protect us from dangers most of us were never even aware of.
When it comes to writing, some people say "stay in your lane" - specialize on a few topics; do a few things well. Others say diversify - write a lot on a variety of topics; keep things fresh and different. With over 90% of my blog posts in 2014 being foster care, adoption and orphan care related, I've chosen to stay in my lane this year. I am by no means an expert on these topics and am in no way "specialized". I have found, however, there are conversations to be had regarding how the Gospel informs our care of the marginalized, neglected and orphaned and how we, the Church, can most effectively steward the mandate of God to intercede on their behalf.
I'll never forget the day it all changed for me. My greatest fear, like so many others who are considering venturing down the beautiful yet tumultuous path of foster care, was not whether or not I could love a child that was not my own but whether or not I could handle letting a child go that I have grown to love as my own. I couldn't get beyond this concern, and couldn't move forward because of it. I shared my fear with a friend who was a foster dad at the time, and his response both challenged and settled me. It revealed to me that my concerns were backwards, centered on me and how I might feel rather than on the child and how they do feel.
I'll never forget the first time we found our girls playing "orphanage". It was our oldest's idea, eight years old at the time, and her two younger sisters followed suit. They had gathered every doll, blanket, book and toy paraphernalia they could find including bottles, bibs, high chairs and food. They spent their time feeding, rocking, reading books to and even singing lullabies for these "babies".
While orphan care undoubtedly involves changing the life of a child, it inevitably brings about significant and profound change in our own lives as well. For whatever change we may bring about for them, they will no doubt change us in ways we never knew possible.
If we're not careful, our care of vulnerable kids and families can become shrouded in an evangelical hero complex that makes it more about us than it is about them. In the end, our good works can be promoted on the backs of the vulnerable to the detriment of making Jesus known as the true Hero in all of this.
It was a Wednesday. We received a call from our foster care agency at 3:30 in the afternoon - a newborn baby girl had been taken into custody by Child Protective Services at the hospital and was in need of placement. "Are you interested?", they asked. Of course we are.
No one is called to do everything, but everyone is called to do something. This is what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. The imagery of a human body is consistently used throughout Scripture to illustrate the identity and activity of the Church – how the people of God relate to one another and function together. Some are hands and some are feet.
As Christians we are called to love and serve God with every aspect of our being. In Mark 12:30 Jesus quotes an Old Testament commandment when He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
In my city alone there were 9,116 confirmed cases of child abuse last year. That averages out to one child every hour helplessly victimized by those ultimately responsible for providing the care and nurturing they really needed.
Orphan care is not a distinctively Christian cause. Similar to feeding the homeless, bringing clean water to those who do not have access or any other number of humanitarian and justice related efforts all around the world, Christians and non-Christians have a mutual interest and shared passion on many issues.
It was never God's intent for children to be without a family. Among the unending evidences that we live in a fatally sin-scarred world, this particular consequence uniquely pains the heart of God. This is why Scripture says He “executes justice for the fatherless” (Deuteronomy 10:18) and He assumes the role of "the father of the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5). This is the heart of God, a good, loving and gracious Father.
We met her for the first time in a downtown courtroom - the same place we would see her for the last time nearly one year later. Although we most likely will never know her beyond that, a piece of her will always be a part of us - literally. It was the first court hearing since her baby girl had been removed from her custody by Child Protective Services and placed in our care a few weeks earlier.
Orphan care is spiritual warfare. It is a battle between good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong. By nature it is reactionary - a response to what is broken motivated by the desire to see renewal, redemption and restoration prevail. It is an effort to see the heart of God demonstrated for the hopeless and justice triumph over what is severely and tragically flawed.
When I was nine years old I learned that the man I had grown up knowing as Dad was actually not my biological father. While this naturally produced many questions in me, it certainly answered one that had always confused me - "Why do I look nothing like my dad?" Now, I knew why.
There are certain things in churches we can create that people will participate in - i.e. worship services, pot-luck dinners, small groups, children's ministries and basketball leagues. Whether God is in those activities or not is irrelevant to our ability to implement them and expect participation. Of course, the hope is that God is in them, and that lives are changed as a result of them.
As lawyers, case workers and court clerks scurried around the court room, we sat waiting - ignorant of the process but eager to see it end. We assumed our role would be minimal, more as a silent presence than an active participant. We were wrong.
It was trial day. Nearly a year had gone by since a beautiful 3 day old baby girl was brought to our house by child protective services.