Having the Faith to Foster – Choosing Obedience to Care for the Orphans
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 (NIV)
“I could never do that…”
This is the first thing I hear when I mention fostering. If you’re connected to the fostering/adoptive world I’m sure you’re nodding your head in agreement right now.
It’s usually in reference to the primary goal of foster care, which is reunification: bringing biological parents and children back together as soon as possible when it is deemed safe by the court. You open your home and your heart to loving a child unconditionally, knowing somewhere down the line that child will walk out of your life possibly forever. It is a heart-wrenching prospect. One I too wrestle with.
Fostering and adoption is something my husband and I have longed for and prayed about since our engagement almost a decade ago. While timing, finances, and maturity initially held us back; there was a major factor at play keeping us in a constant state of “can’t”, my chronic illness.
“I can’t. I have chronic pain and fatigue.”
“I can’t. It’ll be too much stress on my body.”
“It’ll risk everything we’ve fought for… I just CAN’T!”
True, true, and true.
One year ago, if you had mentioned fostering to me, this is exactly what I would have told you and I truly believed it was a valid defence: until I read an article that gripped my heart, sending my family down a very convicting rabbit hole.
That conviction lead us to start our fostering journey, wondering if anything in our life, including my health truly was a “can’t”. While there were significant logistics to consider we quickly learned that the biggest thing that was holding us back was us.
Our research continued and what we learned was an electric shock to my soul, riving old desires and convictions that had been planted years before. Children older than infancy were being turned away for not being a blank slate. Teens were being raised in group homes or sent packing for being too difficult. Neglected and abused kids were bounced from home to home because they were never the “right fit”. Children; the ones who “belong to the Kingdom of heaven” (Mathew 19:14). The ones who were called a “gift” and “reward” (Psalm 127:3-5 NLT) are in desperate need and they need people to step up, now!
I recently read the story when Jesus actually scolded his own disciples who adhered to the “children should be seen and not heard” policy when they were trying to shoo kids away for being a bother. (Math 19:14) Paul even writes “fathers are to not provoke their children to anger by the way they treat them. Rather, by bringing them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord”. And what was the greatest instruction left by Jesus? “Love the lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself” (Mathew 12:30-31).
Love, mercy, justice, and humility: things we as Christ followers are instructed to be the embodiment of. Mix that with the command to care for the widows and orphans, and our “can’ts” start to feel a bit shallow. Especially when you add in a few verses like “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13), “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Pro 16:9) and “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Math 6:33). These are Bible verses we learned in Sunday school but somehow we tuck them away and rationalize them into being metaphorical.
Feeling pangs of conviction yet? I sure am!
The “can’t” statements above, as I said are true, because as weak, fragile humans, we really can’t do it. We can’t step outside out comfort zones, love someone who may never love us back, or advocate for someone who has made some seriously devastating choices. We can’t go against a “me me me” society that says you should come first in life. And for someone with chronic illness we truly can’t care for another soul without the awesome power of a Mighty God. But it doesn’t matter if you are carrying a difficult diagnosis or the torch of selfishness; we are all equally unqualified for the task without God. That’s our reality but not an excuse.
I’m not writing this to send you on a guilt trip (or am I?), and I’m not telling you to eliminate common sense. If you are truly unable to care for yourself, live in inhospitable conditions, and have no income, being a foster parent may not be best choice at this point in your life (getting certified might be tricky too), however does that let you off the hook for life? I say no.
My husband and I started the process to become a foster family one year ago and we still have no idea where it’s going to lead. It’s been a rollercoaster of conviction and passion combined with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. In the next couple months we will either complete the process and open our door to our first child or be denied. But whether or not we get that stamp of approval, our commitment to children in the foster system will not end, because where we live in the West, working with Social Services and the government is the legal way to fully obey the commandment God has given us.
In another time, you could simply invite a homeless or needy child into your home with very little requirement or government interference, but that’s not the age we live in. If you want to really invest in children who are not yours, you have to go through the red tape.
“But I can give money!”
“I can donate and pray!”
“Not all of us are called to be foster parents!”
True, true, and maybe true.
I really do hope you are giving money and even your time to the children in your community, and I certainly hope you are praying, but is that the best you can do?
Hear me out.
I believe in God’s timing and in seasons of life. I believe in wisdom and understanding real limitations. I believe in being Spirit led, following the callings God places on your life and in the uniqueness of the Body of Christ. These are all Biblical concepts. However I also believe these are ever shifting throughout our lives here on earth. Seasons change, kids grow, health improves, finances expand, talents surface and the Spirit is always leading in a multitude of ways.
But, while these things change, God’s commandments and promises to help us fulfill them do not.
So let me ask you again. In your season, using God’s wisdom are you obeying God as best as you possibly can? Or are you scraping the bottom of the barrel and just doing what “good Christians” do?
When we first got married, we were not ready or able to become foster parents. We lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment on a part-time income that barely covered our expenses. Fostering was tabled, but we pleaded with God for ways to truly obey Him as best we could. At the time, we took on two Compassion children, which stretched our budget, we kept working at a church with teens and invested in the local school lunch program. Was it our absolute best? I’ll never really know until heaven but I have peace about it. Have we always done our absolute best? Certainly not!
I am on no high horse here because this fostering journey has brought me face to face with the reality of my failures and blatant disobedience. In many areas of my life and in the commands that Jesus has required of me, I’ve often done the bare minimum or the Christian cultural norm. I’ve tithed, but not always felt the sting of real sacrifice. I’ve had neighbours over but have chosen convenience over relationships. I’ve given sacrificially to my spouse but have had a secret agenda. To summarize, I’m selfish and weak and make excuses for myself, and I really really need Jesus.
I need to dust off those Sunday school verses and believe them again. I need to have my life shaken by the harsh realities of this world to wake me up and remember my purpose here. I can’t change my past failures but I can confess them to a Heavenly Father who has already forgiven me and choose to walk in faith once again. I can look at my life and ask God to show me where I’m not giving my all. In regards to the children, it became clear that even with what seemed like obvious deterrents to fostering, our obedience meant to apply anyways and we have learned so much along the way. Lord willing, in a few months we will be starting a new chapter as a family with more young ones to love and cherish. Perhaps we will disqualify and the process itself is a means to a greater end then we can see right now. Whatever the outcome, we have peace in our obedience.
Are you meant to be a foster parent?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe one day.
Do you need to willingly consider it?
I wholeheartedly say, “Yes!”
Don’t fall into the trap of “I couldn’t do that”, because with God, you absolutely can.
And if you’re too afraid of the pain of loving a child who might leave you, remember that quality in you is exactly what would make you a fantastic foster parent.
The gift of love.
As a parent do you ever feel like your parenting journey is being ranked and judged? Though unintentional, I've found that we in society quickly compare our kids to those around us. It can even start in pregnancy. We mothers start to debate over who had the worst morning sickness or the quickest delivery, and of course, who went drug free vs. who had to endure a C-section. Then our children are born and it's about birth weight, APGAR scores and gender.
The Comparison Trap
As our kids grow we tend to compare milestones and fret constantly over whether our own babies are "keeping up". Babies who crawl at 5 months or walk before a year are called advanced and parents proudly boast about it, while the other parents of infants who are still trying to roll over, remain silent hoping no-one notices. It really isn’t intended to be a contest, but despite our best intentions, these comparisons do happen and leave us feeling either prideful or sad and discouraged. Neither is healthy and it’s not what God wants for our families.
Our children are unique and precious gifts, beautifully designed by God with their own path ahead of them, but from birth to college society puts certain expectations on children for them to be deemed successful. Instead of seeing children as having unique personalities that will make them grow and succeed in their own ways, we incorrectly label our children's individualities as strengths and weaknesses.
If a toddler is smiley and bubbly, they are praised for being friendly and "easy", while another who cries while being left at daycare, is called clingy and a "handful". Perhaps a young child loves to have books read to them while their sibling would prefer to run and jump around. The eldest will be predicted to become a great reader, while the sibling will need extra help to catch up or be called the athlete of the pair. The blonde haired, blue eyed daughter is constantly called the "beauty" while the younger less striking son is called "smart".
Without realizing it we are placing these damaging labels on our children, either praising or condemning them, not because they are doing something wrong or right, but simply because of how God made them.
Struggle vs. Sin
All of us are born sinful, and each of us will struggle with some sins more than others. My eldest son likes to be the centre of attention and will whine to demand our attention while my youngest will give big temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. These are sin struggles and through discipline, prayer, and love we are working to guide and correct them, ultimately pointing them to Christ who is the only one who can change their hearts. These are just some of their "weaknesses".
However in contrast, my youngest child is just shy of 4 years old and he is not fully potty trained. At two and a half, we began the potty training process but it was clear that even with signs of “readiness” he still needed time. Another six months went by and we tried again with a different strategy and still, there was no success. Halfway through being 3, we were starting to get concerned about it so we pushed very hard using every trick in the book, but no matter what we did it was not happening. As he is now turning 4 and is signed up for Junior Kindergarten in the fall, I’ve found myself obsessing over his potty training. I called his doctor and after her reassuring me that it would happen when he was ready I still had that guilty feeling that he was “behind”. I unknowingly labeled him negatively based on something that was totally out of his control.
It’s hard for any parent to think their child isn’t where they should be for their developmental stage. Everyone knows that being different opens the door to potentially a lot of struggle and hurt. We all want our children to be “normal” and to feel included and accepted, but God has shown me that I cannot let my fears spill over and put a burden on my kids that they are not meant to carry.
I will not apologize for my son not being potty trained and I won’t put a label on him because of it. I am doing everything I can as his mom to help him reach this stage, but I will not condemn this struggle as a weakness that must be fixed, but instead as a goal I am helping him to achieve. He is not less or weak or behind, he is my incredible, deeply loved, passionate little boy who is a miracle created by God with his own biological timeline.
As parents, we are meant to set high standards for our kids: standards of morality, integrity, character, and love. We are to show them right from wrong, love them unconditionally and help them see the need for Jesus to rescue them from the sinfulness in their hearts, but we must be careful to not confuse healthy expectations with societal standards that aren’t even in our children’s control.
A Godly Perspective
I’m learning to let go of the need to try to control circumstances in order to create a desired outcome, and instead surrender it all up to God. He and He alone knows my child’s future and the only way I can be a godly parent is by trusting Him every single day and obeying His word. Trusting in Him frees us from the pride and discouragement we feel when we look at our children and compare them to others. He helps us to stop focusing on things that have no eternal value like how quickly they learn to ride a bike or how good-looking they are. We can rest in the knowledge that God has a plan for our children’s lives and that He is guiding their steps.
Whether your child is still learning to walk, speak coherently or is a beauty pageant winner, they are exactly who God created them to be. Ditch the labels and instead pour truth over your little one, reminding them everyday that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
Author - Erin
Follower of Jesus, on a journey to glorify God and to advance His Kingdom while battling Chronic Illness in the everyday life. Diagnoses include Lupus, CVID, POTS, IBS, Hemiplegic Migraines and other Autoimmune conditions.