I have not given one back yet. At least not one that I have had for more than a few days, one that I have fallen in love with. Friends tell me you cry the day you find out they are leaving, and you cry the day they leave. Then you start all over again, fall in love again, say goodbye again. Sometimes I wonder if I will be able to do it, give them back, but of course I will, whether or not I think I can. This is what I signed up for. This is foster care.
I cannot remember what exactly brought foster care to the forefront of my mind, but in a mind like mine, when something comes to the front, it gets stuck there. So I read about it, talked about it, prayed about it, and I became compelled to do something.
I was compelled by the stories of children, just like mine, living right across town from me who were hurt, starved, raped, ignored. I was compelled by the statistics that predict these kids' futures: jail, pregnancy, homelessness, further abuse. I was compelled by admitting what is true: God created them, loves them, values them, and died for them, just like He did for me and my own children. Ultimately, I was compelled by the most compelling thing: the fact that I, too, was rescued. These kids were just like me: helpless, hopeless, fatherless.
So, that was it. I had to do something. But my husband and I are a team. We do "somethings" together. And so began the months of talking, praying, and struggling through what this something was. We know God loves orphans, we know God wants us to love orphans, but does that mean we have to upend our happy “one-boy one-girl, all we ever wanted” family to love them?
The discussions were heavy as we struggled through the questions. What were we "called" to? What did we want? What could we handle? So we simplified the discussion. Instead of talking about it as if it were a life calling, we talked about it as if it were an opportunity to serve. Maybe we could serve this way for a year, maybe for the rest of our lives. The question changed from a question of personal desire and calling to a question of faith. Did we have faith for each individual step in the process? My answer came immediately, his took a little longer. But the answer came. Yes, we did have faith to hand in our application. Yes, we did have faith to take the training classes. Yes, we did have faith to go through the home study process and yes, we did have the faith to say, "Call us when there's a kid who needs a home."
We got the call. I never saw her in her home with her "real" mom, but the quick story from the social worker engrained a permanent picture in my head: She sits in a play pen because the rest of the house is covered in hundreds of soiled diapers, maggots, third-world type filth. Old enough to walk, but she can barely crawl. Old enough to talk, but she cries without a sound. Old enough to eat and feed herself, but she chokes on anything but the bottle of milk stuck in her mouth to stifle her whining. Old enough to understand, but she is ignored by her mom, taken by a stranger, and brought to live with me.
I shook with nervous excitement as I opened the door to this little stranger who would now be my maybe-temporary, maybe-forever daughter. She sat in the middle of my living room, looking too scared to even move. She stared at us with tear-filled eyes and a tight-lipped "I'm trying to be brave" smile, looking too scared to even cry. Like God wired her to do, she immediately identified me as "mom" and clung to me like her life depended on it, like some stranger would come and take her away from me, too. My head and back hurt every night from the burden of carrying her weight and the tension of trying to "figure out" this child I didn't even know.
But that was in August. It is not like that anymore. Now she is just one of my kids. I change her diapers and feed her, kiss her and cuddle her, worry about her and pray for her, get impatient with her and sin against her. Functionally, she is my daughter in every sense of the word. Biologically? Legally? She's not my daughter at all. Chances are one day the same worker who brought this broken little girl to my home will pick her up, just a little more whole, and take her away from me forever. It will be the single greatest sacrifice of my life.
But, oh, my God knows about giving up a child. My God knows about sacrificial love, and so it is His sacrificial love that ultimately compels me. I cannot save any child who comes into my home, I am no savior. But I have been rescued by the Savior, transformed by the Savior, and I am now compelled to live like the Savior.
So I care for the two baby girls who have entered our lives in need of a temporary home, a temporary mom. I meet their physical needs, always remembering their greater need, their spiritual need. I love them, I tell them Jesus loves them, I sing them songs of the gospel, and I pray for them. I pray for their little bodies, their hearts, and their futures. But my prayers do not stop there. I pray that their moms and dads will change in the only way they can actually change, by coming to know the rescuing, transforming love of Jesus themselves. And I pray for my own heart, that I will love these kids like my own while they are in my house. That I will be able to give them back when it comes to that, and that I will always have a heart to love and rescue children like my Savior has loved and rescued me.