I travel often for work. Enough that the whole experience is a fairly routine one for me. Airports, car rentals, hotel rooms, even long security lines and flight delays - I'm fairly numb to it all now. It's just a means to the end of getting where I need to go.
However, a recent trip to Chicago was anything but routine. My oldest daughter came along with me and it changed the entire dynamic.
In the months leading up to the trip she checked out and read at least a dozen books from the library about Chicago's history. She researched museums, parks and famous sites she hoped to see and visit. She wanted to know as much about the city as she could so she could get the most out of her time there as possible. It was a great trip with her, but oddly enough, what I'll remember most about our time together has nothing to do with actually being in Chicago. It has everything to do with the journey of us getting there.
It began right away. She was fascinated by how the x-ray machine scans our bags; curious as to why everyone else at our gate was also going to Chicago; wide-eyed as she felt the force of the plane against her and watched the wheels leave the runway headed for the sky; in wonderment as we leveled off five miles over the earth, taking every picture from every angle she could through the small window next to her; in awe of all the shops and cafes and restaurants in the massive Chicago airport - "like a city inside a building", she said; all smiles as we rode the train to pick up our car; at a complete loss for words as we neared the Chicago skyline just as the sun was setting, again taking pictures, only stopping long enough to ensure I was seeing what she was seeing too, like a corroborating witness testifying that it was really happening. These are the things I will remember - watching my baby girl's eyes light up at all the things she was experiencing on our way to where we were going. In those moments it had nothing to do with the destination, and everything to do with enjoying the journey.
A Scale of Outcomes
We live in a results driven society, one that measures success and worth on a scale of outcomes, accomplishments and achievements. It's all about the destination and what you can produce. In some ways this is good - it drives us to pursue excellence and bring about new and better things; yet in many ways it's dangerous - forcing us to be so focused on where we think we need to be that we lose sight of where we actually are and all the beauty and wonder and opportunity that comes along the way.
What had become ordinary in travel to me was a pure joy to her that day. My routine was her delight. Sure, she was looking forward to our destination, but not to the neglect of appreciating as much of the journey along the way as she could. I needed to see that - and be reminded of that - in more ways than one. Maybe you do too.
We want to "fix" our foster daughter. I know we can't, but we want to undo in a matter of months what has been ingrained within her over the course of 17 years. In an idealistic sense we want her to "be" better and "do" better at life - of course for her own sake and the sake of her new baby boy - but in all honesty, partly for our sake as well. It's as if somehow her progress works to validate us as foster parents - to justify our decision to do this and assure those around us that we do in fact know what we're doing (at least sometimes!). We want her to succeed, and we want us to succeed as well, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that desire, it's just that as foster parents it's easy to measure our "success" on the wrong things and to try to find validation in the wrong places.
And while her story is far from over, it’s one in which every worst possible outcome came true in every way. Shortly before her eighteenth birthday she decided to run away, packing enough clothes and baby supplies as a few duffle bags would allow – and they vanished. We turned around and they were gone. It had been a heated night, the culmination of weeks of intense conversations, standoffs and a thick wall of resistance she had been constructing between us and her for some time. She’s lived in chaos for 2/3’s of her life. It’s what she knows and where she’s comfortable. Our home was not that and she had had enough. She needed out, and it didn’t matter where to – the not knowing was comfortable for her; in many ways the uncertainty was more of a home to her than our house had ever been.
After phone calls to our agency and case workers, and per their instruction, to the police, we ended the night with two officers in our living room asking what she was wearing, if we had any idea where she may have gone, if we felt her son was in danger, if we felt she was. Questions we had very few answers for. Our young daughters sat on the couch and watched as everything we fought so hard to prevent from happening was now happening, at eleven o’clock, on a school night, in our living room.
Not long after I received a text from my dad, who I had been updating throughout the ordeal, that initially threw me off:
“Does this feel like defeat to you?”
Not great timing, Dad. Perhaps it’s a little too soon to be asking questions like that? That’s what I wanted to type back. However, the more I considered the question, the more I appreciated it. It forced me to confront something that night and dig deep to find the right answer to that question that left on its own would inevitably haunt me.
This whole situation wants to feel like defeat – it wants me to believe we have failed. It wants me to answer “yes” to him – yes, it does feel like defeat, it feels like failure, it feels like it’s all been in vain and I wonder if it was really worth it. That’s what I want to say, but I know I can’t. I know there has to be more than that. While the struggle of that night was still raw his question forced me to rise above it, to see the bigger picture and rest that night in the truth of a story God was playing out that was much bigger than just that night.
“I try to think that success is doing it in the first place, not necessarily any outcomes we can produce. At least that’s what helps me sleep at night.”
That was my answer. I forced my fingers to type each and every individual letter, not to impress him with my words but to impress upon my heart the importance of believing those words – each and every individual one of them. His text was a gift to me that night – it forced me to fall asleep believing that something about the journey, the destination and the faithfulness of God through it all.
I'm convinced God is more pleased by our willingness to be faithful along the journey of foster care than He is concerned about our ability to achieve a certain outcome through it. "Well done, good and *successful* servant?" No. "Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant." Faithfulness is our success, not achieving certain outcomes that only God has the capacity to produce. Of course we want to see measures of health and stability and progress and hope achieved in the lives of kids from hard places, but what happens if she doesn't graduate, doesn't get a job, doesn't break free from some destructive patterns of behavior and thinking? What happens if our definition of "success" never materializes in her life? I honestly don't know. Does that mean we have failed her? Does that mean our work on her behalf was in vain? Was the journey along the way really worth it in the end?
FIX YOUR EYES
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18
You may not see it now - you may not ever see it fully in this lifetime - but what you are doing is of eternal significance. Fix your eyes there - on eternity - but be faithful here, today, and then tomorrow, and then next week, trusting God with the outcome as you experience the beauty and pain and struggle and wonder of walking with Him along the journey. Daily, faithfully keep walking, keep making deposits into their lives, keep trusting that what's completely out of your control is absolutely in His. His sovereignty is our sanity; our faithfulness is enough.
Success was achieved the moment you first said “yes” to this. Be free from the burden to be something for these kids that only Jesus intended Himself to be. Our job is not to be the savior of these kids; it's simply to love these kids as our Savior has loved us - fully, freely, sacrificially - and to trust Him with the rest. Give yourself some room. No one is strutting their way through foster care; we're all limping in some way - each wired for struggle and worthy of grace. Certainly the kids, their families, case workers, the "system" and even (sometimes especially) us. At some point we come to the realization that it's not so much "us" helping "them" - it's just "us", together - all uniquely broken humans on this journey called life together.
I was reminded that day to enjoy the process, to soak up as much of the journey as I can. To not be so focused on where I'm trying to go that I lose sight of where I am. I needed to be reminded of that, and will continue to need to be often. Perhaps you will too.
The good news is that Jesus does not call you to control everything along the foster care journey, nor does He expect you to. He actually wants you to be okay with the fact that you can't. Your "success" as a foster parent is not measured by your capacity to produce some certain set of outcomes; it's determined by your willingness to be faithful along the way, and to trust that in the beauty, struggle, joy and heartache of it all, the journey is worth it, Jesus is beautiful - and so is what you are doing for these kids.