It's Hard to Say Goodbye, but That's a Good Thing

hands-1797401_1920.jpg

I never get accustomed to seeing a small terrified face come through the back door of our house carrying all they have in small duffel bag. Last Thursday night was no exception, a grim reminder there are really dark places in this world and children live in them every day.

When people find out we are foster parents, they sometimes say well-meaning things like, “I’m so glad you all are doing that, it’s so needed.” Yes, yes it is, and we need more foster homes. There are far more children who need beds than there are beds available.

Our foster / adoptive journey has thus far been characterized by us offering a forever home for our placements. To date we have adopted three boys, so the numbers of children coming into and out of our home is lower than most. However, last May we experienced something different. That’s when we got to see one of our foster sons return home. He was very excited, but we were less than thrilled.

He had become part of our family and it was now time to return to his. Somewhere down in our hearts I guess we thought he would stay with us longer, but it was time to go. His family had done what needed to be done and they were reunited once again. This is the exciting outcome that all too often never happens. After reflecting over the past few months on what the experience was like, we have learned a few things:

It’s OK to miss foster children

As we bought groceries a few nights after he had returned, I looked at my wife and said, “It seems odd without him with us.” (He had been with us most of the school year) She sweetly replied, “it does.” When a child is placed in your home, they wallow out a special place in your soul. You feed them, clothe them, pray over them, and love them. Then, hopefully, things get better at their home and they get to return. That’s good news! That is the idea. 

Just because you miss them doesn’t mean it isn’t right and good for them to go back. What it does mean is you have done something they needed more than they know; you have attached. Seeing one of our placements return home, while difficult, has solidified another very important idea:

Fear of attachment isn’t a good reason to avoid being foster parents

We’ve been told countless times, “that’s why I could never foster. I’m afraid I’d get too attached.” Let us remind ourselves … this is the point. Children in foster care need to attach to someone, to something. They need someone to love them well, even if for a short time, while their family gets things sorted out. They need to see what family looks like, what it means to worship together, to sit down to dinner together, to be lovingly corrected, to have lunches packed, prayers prayed, and hugs given. They may only be there for a short while, but during that time, they need to see Jesus in us.

Being foster parents isn’t about us

Yes, it was hard to say goodbye, but we must remember, it isn’t about us. It is about reaching out with the arms of Christ to love a child who needs it desperately. Maybe fostering isn’t your thing. Maybe you don’t have room. Maybe it simply isn’t in your DNA, but if you want to really see how Jesus’ love, the same love He gave us on the cross, can have exponential and eternal impact, love on a foster child. For that matter, love on any child. Especially one who isn’t getting that love at home. As with many things, we keep reminding ourselves that the hardships we encounter because of our choice to be foster parents is far outweighed by the trauma and hurt they feel. We need to constantly remember,

Their pain is greater than ours.

If we think it would be too hard on us to say goodbye to someone to whom we have become attached, imagine being 7 years old and ripped from your mother’s arms in the middle of the night by a sheriffs deputy. Then imagine being placed in the backseat of a stranger’s car and dropped off at another stranger’s house, having left your favorite stuffed animal and all your belongings at home. They tell you “this is a good place,” but you don’t really have a reference for what a good place is. All you know is your mom isn’t there, and no matter how bad it was in the place you left, this isn’t home. The people who brought you drive away into the night and somehow you are supposed to get a good night’s sleep in this strange place with people you don’t know or trust. Everything you have ever been attached to is gone. Sometimes forever.

Tell me again how it would be too hard on us? I know that sounds harsh, I do, and I don’t mean it that way, but I can’t get past the fact that these kids simply and desperately need to be loved, to be connected, and attached. They know neglect, loneliness, and sorrow. What they need is to know stability, love, and joy.

They have experienced things and seen things in their short lives most of us can’t fathom. If they get to go home, I promise the pain we feel when they leave won’t be the same as the pain they have likely lived in most of their lives. Don’t let our own eye for self-preservation blind us to the fact that we may be the first thing they have ever been able to attach to in their entire lives. It’s on us to be that point of attachment, be that anchor for them. I promise you’ll be a better person when it’s over.

We Need Help

When you think you just couldn’t bear to get attached only to be pulled apart, remember what Jesus did for all of us. He left the splendor of heaven, took on the form of a man so He could “attach” to an entire race. He lived, was brutally murdered, and buried. Thankfully the story isn’t over. The pain and sorrow, even for the disciples, was a temporary thing. Jesus told them He would be back and when He ascended into heaven, an angel stood by the apostles and asked them why they were gazing, looking, up into heaven. He would be back; there would be a reunion one day.

This all came into sharp focus for us one more time when Jesus Himself spent the night on our couch. No, seriously, according to Matthew 25:40, that’s exactly what happened. The passage speaks of a simultaneously great and terrible time, the Final Judgement. It is one of those passages that sort of jolts me awake as if someone has dumped a bucket of ice water over my head while sleeping. As we identify with Christ by following Him with our whole lives, there are certain characteristics that come to surface. In this passage, the acceptance of Jesus transcends the verbal proclamation of belief and enters a world characterized by service to the populations who can give no reciprocity of attention; the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, the stranger.

I hope you don’t read this and think we feel as though we would certainly be counted among the sheep instead of the goats because of our choice to get in the fostering game. In fact, there are times I sit back and wonder how on earth that could possibly be true as I sometimes lament the loss of peace and quiet and leisurely Sunday mornings. To echo the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3, it is our prayer to know Him and the power of His resurrection, to somehow obtain the resurrection of the dead.

Certainly, this isn’t a requirement for faith or salvation, or even righteousness for that matter. What we do know is this ministry is near and dear to the heart of Christ. The burden is heavy and the laborers are few.

For us, there may never be a reunion with our kiddos who go home or to another placement, but one thing is for sure, we believe Jesus will be pleased that at least once they knew what it meant to get attached to something.

At least once, for a short while, or for a lifetime, we get to go to soccer practice with Jesus, invite Jesus to go with us on vacation, to attend our family Christmas, to sit at our table, and experience the messed up reality of being on our team. Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye, but it really is OK.