3 Reasons It's 'OK' for Foster Care to Rip Out Your Soul

Once in a while you go through things as a foster/adoptive parent that define who you are and why you do what you do. That first “Daddy” or “I love you” or watching a child walk across the stage at graduation when you weren’t certain they would ever finish the ninth grade. These are great times.

Then there are times where you wonder why on earth you submit yourself and your family to the things you do. You wonder if you can keep going, or if there will be a time when the pain and suffering parading through your home each day will relent. The answer is probably not. This week has had several moments like this.

Back in September I wrote an article about how hard it is to say goodbye to one of your foster children. I talked about how their pain is far greater than ours. Last night I wasn’t so sure. We had to tell our five year old that he would be moving to a different placement. He wasn’t going home, and we don’t even believe the move was in his best interest, it was out of our hands completely. That made it even harder.

When he came to stay with us there was an instant attachment and kindred spirit. It didn’t hurt that he is one of the sweetest and most loving children I’ve ever been around. He instantly found a way deep into our souls. As I told him he would no longer be staying with us, that portion of my soul felt like it was ripped completely out. In the words of Isaiah, I was “undone.” The CSB says, “I am ruined.” Both are terrifyingly accurate.

While the cause of being “undone” is very different in that passage, I understood the sentiment. I felt as though the very life was draining from me. I love this little boy so deeply, and that feeling developed in such a short period of time. Frankly, I was unprepared for the impact.

We sat him down and explained that the judge (a concept he doesn’t understand even a little) had decided it best for him to live with his sisters. With that phrase, I saw it. I’ve seen the blank and stoic glare of a child who suffers from Attachment Disorder before, we have two of them. However, I’d never seen its genesis, but there it was.

In that instant, a face that has for the past two and half months been adorned with the broadest smile one could imagine, was now blank. It was as if a switch had been flipped. Except darkness came instead of light; fear instead of comfort; pain instead of joy.

I hugged him tightly, selfishly, asking God to make sure he understood we loved him and didn’t have a choice. How do you explain this to a five year old? You can’t. You just hope he remembers what you taught him. You pray he doesn’t forget the love you have shown and the love he has hopefully felt.

I leaned him back and looked into his eyes, now fixed on mine, as his lip quivered. He stood straight and strong as a single tear escaped his eye. “Do you remember what I always tell you,” I asked? “That you love me,” he said as his little hands held my shoulders. It was more than I could take. I scooped him up again and squeezed, he squeezed back.

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I asked him if he could remember how we prayed each night. He said he could. I asked him if he thought he could remember and pray for his sisters each night. He said he could. He climbed up in Tammy’s lap and hugged her. It was a very somber moment.

We tucked him into bed and I knelt to pray. Instead of “Can I say Amen?” or “Can I say everything you say?” he remained quiet and waited. I started praying … and he repeated, just like before. When he said ‘Amen’ it wasn’t with the same gusto as previous nights, but he said it. He had learned to pray, an invaluable skill he will need the rest of his life.

I turned out the light, walked down the stairs and out the front door. I couldn’t face the other kids, I knew I was breaking. Outside I had a brief fit of anger. Not with or at anyone, but the situation.

I cried. Hard. Harder than I’ve cried in a really long time. I cried out to God and asked, “Why? Why don’t you fix this?” This was space He and I had been in before. He answered me as He always does, “Trust me, son.” We will do just that, but I cried for a bit before I could go inside.

Today I spent some time packing up his things and tonight we said goodbye. He tried so hard to be strong and not cry. I can’t say the same for the rest of us. I buckled him in the car seat and reminded him one last time that Jesus loves him, we love him, and he was a brave, strong boy. A part of my soul was dying; one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why would someone bring this sort of hurt on their soul over and over again? There are reasons.

The need. It is so overwhelming. In August of 2017 there were over 23,000 children in non-relative foster care placements in Texas alone. Over 7500 of them were prepared and cleared for adoption into a forever home, but there were only 1500 adoptive homes to take them. You see the problem.

The cycle. The only way to stop this cycle of abuse and neglect is to train up a generation who understands the toll it takes and help them become disciples of Christ; to show them the Gospel, to break the cycle. Unfortunately we often seem far more interested in “draining the swamp” than we are in draining the foster care system. This ministry of care is more than caring for children, it is ministering to the family, a generation. It is showing them how to be parents, how to love, and be loved.

Church, this one is on us. We may not have created the problem, but it is on us to address it. All of our fancy buildings, coffee bars, elegant bulletins, and comforts will one day burn up and pass away. The question for us will be, “What have we done with the children? What will we do about obedience?”

The Heart of God. The most important reason we must keep this ministry alive is simply the will and heart of God. James 1 says that pure and undefiled religion before God is to look after the orphans and widows in their distress. To do that, we will need to bring their distress into our lives. Look at Psalm 68:5-6:

God in his holy dwelling is
a father of the fatherless
and a champion of widows.
God provides homes for those who are deserted.
He leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a scorched land.

This passage gives me my answer. This is our “why”. Caring for these little ones, as hard as it may be sometimes, is the essence of His character and nature; it defines who He is. It is literally a living, breathing depiction of the Gospel. He, who had done no wrong, sacrificed everything to give an eternal home to those whom He would also give the ability to become His sons and daughters. He died to give us life and to ransom us from a broken, abusive, neglectful world we corrupted by our sin.

In return, we often reciprocate His love with disobedience. His response is most often grace; it certainly was that day at Calvary.

As an extension of His nature, He commanded us to simply obey and be transformed into a reflection of His image; to do on earth what He has done in eternity; to engage in pure and undefiled religion as a testimony of His grace.

He has commanded all of us, not just a few. Do a quick Bible study and you will see how God feels about children and the fatherless, the little ones; He speaks of the little ones in Matthew 18:10:

See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.

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That isn’t to say everyone will be able to open their home for various reasons, but I ask you to weigh out those reasons. Do they serve you or the Kingdom? Maybe you can be respite care, babysitting, clothing donor, or even financial support. Everyone can help.

I won’t lie to you, there are days we ask ourselves, “Why?” Why do we continually, intentionally set ourselves up to be emptied in this ministry? That’s when we look in their eyes and remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 2. He describes the sacrifice Christ made for us (emphasis mine):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death

even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This week we have tried to console ourselves by remembering while he was only here a short while, he saw Jesus in that time. However, Tammy said it best at dinner tonight, “I think we are the ones who saw Jesus.”