In retrospect, I should have just skipped the meeting. Everyone would have understood, after all, we had just taken custody of our first foster child three days before. She was not doing well. But the stupid part of me, the part that wants to be mother and pastor simultaneously in all its glory with none of its brokenness, that part of me sent me to the meeting, nine month old foster daughter and two year old biological son in tow while my husband was out of town.
She shrieked for the first ten minutes of the meeting before we left, with all the moms in the group smiling comfortingly and knowingly, the teenage girls looking like they might have reconsidered premarital sex for a few more weeks.
It wasn’t really going how we thought it would.
Our firstborn child came hard. He was a great baby, but rounds of church conflict and a rough pregnancy landed me on bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy, and then recovering from a C-section. But after all that he was great. Easy baby, good eater, slept through the night before he was twenty-five. The church loved having a baby around, especially because it had been a while. They were forgiving of sermons that sometimes took detours before getting back to the point, patient with me nursing in my office while they stood outside waiting to speak with me, and charmed by his easy smiles and first steps.
We were not foolish enough to think that all babies were as easy as he was. But we were not really prepared for how challenging our girl would be.
My husband and I are both ministers, so we know what it means to be called. I was called while in college, and went straight to divinity school. Ben spent more time navigating the world before returning to school and being ordained. We had felt the same sort of call to serve as foster parents. My husband’s grandfather had been a foster child, cycling through several families until he finally ended up with the right one who saw him through high school and loved him until their deaths. His foster sister attended his wife’s funeral, sixty years later. We knew what a difference it could make.
And we felt like we could be useful. We had a spare bedroom, all the toys a child could need, extra time given my husband’s halftime work situation and my flexible schedule, and the desire to parent another child. We thought we could be useful.
We knew that there are too many families in the system. We knew that resources are tight in state budgets and children’s’ services are the easiest to chop, after cutting their mothers’ services, of course. We knew that whatever we do to the least of these we do unto our Lord.
When people ask me why we’re foster parents, if I feel like giving the short answer, I say “Somebody has to do it. And Jesus told us to.” That’s how we began. And we continue because of the children. They say that in child welfare there are two kinds of people: child savers and family preservers. Foster parents are asked to play both roles. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for us or for our congregation. Often I get to model forgiveness and grace and hope through the example I set in how I speak about our daughter’s other mother and father. It would be very easy to blame them, scapegoat them, and gossip about them (and it’s some GOOD gossip, let me tell you). But that’s not helpful to our girl, or to the faith lives of my parishioners. They need me to set a better example.
But what has been a blessing has been their example to me. They have been wonderful. We did lots of preparation, both for our family and for the church. After we were licensed, but before she came, I wrote a letter to the church telling them of our dreams and reasons for taking in a foster child and how wonderful they had been to our son. (True of most of the church). They were ecstatic and so excited to partner with us on this crazy journey. “Any news? When is the new child coming? Have you heard anything? What are you going to need from us?” were the questions on people’s lips as we waited.
And when she came, broken, tiny, with a shriek that sounded like a pterodactyl on steroids, they were still ecstatic for us. They caressed her tiny feet, laughed with us as she got bigger and sassier and stopped shrieking. They encouraged our son in his role as big brother, and gave me a lot of grace when I was frazzled or telling the fourth story in a row about how cute my kids were.
One member of the church, a gruff eighty-seven year old great-grandfather, carried her around from place to place as she directed him with points and laughs. Another member who is a lawyer in the local prosecutor’s office answered all my questions about the court process. Parents with adult children reassured me that the sibling rivalry would abate, probably.
And they only laughed a little when we provided respite (short-term) care for a pair of brothers in March for ten days. Their questions weren’t about how we would manage with four kids under the age of six in one house, and taking two cars to get everywhere. They asked when they could meet them, and how they could help. And one of Ben’s church members made us a huge lasagna and tray of brownies. Grace, grace, grace, abundant.
They give me a lot more grace than I would ever think to ask for. And it is so rewarding to have people who haven’t seen her in a while (cough- Christmas and Easter Christians – cough), see her with me and ask incredulously “Is that E?” “Yes”, I say proudly. “That’s our E.” A tiny little spitfire of a girl who has taught all of us about grace, thriving, hope, and the value of pink shoes.
Artwork by Lindsay Waller.