A little over a year ago, my husband and I made the decision to open our home to foster children. It had been something I always wanted to do, and it seemed the right time in our lives: we had no biological children, so we didn’t have to worry about this decision affecting them, we lived in a big house with three empty bedrooms, and we were working with schedules that made it possible. Added to this list came the organization that we decided to work with; they had an excellent staff, were on call 24/7 and did the training around our schedules. When we signed up to work with them we knew that we would be working with kids who required a higher level of care, but we also knew that we’d be getting the support we needed.
At the end of May, they called us with a placement possibility, and so we fast-tracked our training to be able to open our doors to a 14 year old boy who needed a home. He lived with us for seven months, and while it was not always fabulous (oh the stories I could tell), he taught us a lot. Together, my husband and I learned what it takes to be good parents: patience, communication, love, a strong relationship, and lots of faith. We learned to laugh at ourselves, and even at the things he did that at first made us furious. After he left, we welcomed a 16 year old girl into our home. She was with us two-and a-half months, and while she wasn’t the best fit for our family, I think my husband learned a lot about what it is like to live with a hormonal teenage girl!
Over the past year, I’ve found when I tell people about what we’re doing that I get a lot of the same response. People usually say things like, “you’re such a good person,” “I don’t know how you do that.” Or even a few times, “you must be a saint.” And while I think I’m a good person most of the time, I know that my family would tell you I’m far from a saint. At first I didn’t know quite how to respond to those comments. I’ve never been good at accepting compliments, but these made me even more uncomfortable than normal….what do you say when someone tells you you’re a saint? Make a joke? Say thank you? Deny it? I tried all of them, and none of them felt right.
After a while, I realized that the real problem was that these comments made me angry. I know I’m not a saint, and I feel like I’m just doing what God has called all of us to do: care for the left out and the forgotten, the pushed aside, and the shoved away…..who else falls in that category than kids “in the system?” These are kids that have been abused or neglected by their families of origin, that often times have been moved from group home to foster home to group home, and have learned behavior that helps them to cope, even if that behavior is unhealthy. Isn’t the church supposed to be right there in the midst of their need and brokenness? Aren’t we called as Disciples of Christ to be where brokenness exists and to help in the redemption of the world? It doesn’t make us saints, or good people, it makes us the body of Christ doing God’s work in the world.
The other response I hear from people is that they wished they could do foster care but they worry about their children, or don’t have the time, or some other excuse. I wonder to myself, how often do we excuse ourselves out of doing what God has plainly asked us to do? A few months ago news broke of a case near my hometown where two little girls had been severely abused and then killed by a woman who adopted them after being their foster mother, and that one little girl had narrowly escaped the same fate. People were appalled that the system could allow this to happen.
But I look around and see people doing nothing. . .other than talking about it immediately surrounding the news. Sure, we might send some money to the organization, or donate Christmas presents or Easter candy. But how can we expect the world to take care of these kids, when the Church is ignoring them, and pushing them away? We have a lot of excuses, but the truth is we are the perfect people to offer help; we are a people who have the love of God in our hearts and the body of Christ surrounding us with support. If we can’t or won’t help, then how can we expect others to? I won’t promise it will be a cake-walk or that helping in this exact way is what everyone is called to, but I do think that more of us….more clergy, and more people who are a part of the body need to look at this as a real ministry opportunity. We need to take Christ as our model in all things. Remember His response when the disciples rebuked the ones who brought children to be blessed? “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” That should be our response too: let the little children come. Let them come to our homes, to our schools, to our neighborhoods, and our churches, and most importantly, to our hearts. Let them come.