When you start the foster care/adoption process, it can be very exciting. You think about the precious souls that will enter your home, how you can make them feel welcome and loved, and how they will certainly change your entire world forever. The classes can often scare you with all the talk of trauma and possible behaviors. I thought I was prepared for the trauma and the behaviors, but just like any real experience, you don't know until you know.
Here are some pics of us before kids in the "dream stage" of doing foster care. Definitely less wrinkles and more hair in these pics :)
I will warn you that most of the things I have learned have been difficult lessons learned through deep pain (which is ongoing). As you read this list, I hope that you stick it out to the end, even when some of it in the middle can be hard to hear or process (especially if you are thinking about foster care or adoption). It proves how much we live in the in-between. We live with the despair of knowing the depth of our brokenness, but also the hope that one day it will be restored. We abide with the nagging pain of our past, but also look to our bright futures. We wake up to chaos, but find peace in the middle of it. We go to battle for our kids, but we also bring them in close. We feel like we have reached the end of ourselves, but we know that, by the grace of God, we will get up tomorrow and do it all again - for the sake of our kids and for the sake of His Glory.
We feel like we have reached the end of ourselves, but we know that, by the grace of God, we will get up tomorrow and do it all again - for the sake of our kids and for the sake of His Glory.
I wish I could tell my pre-foster-care self that...
1. Any outcome is possible
When TJ and I started foster care, we checked the box for "foster care" and then decided to also check "foster to adopt," just in case. A little over three years later, we have two beautiful kids and have only had a total of three placements. Other people get into foster care with the intention of adopting, and may have 30 placements before one that ends in adoption. When you sign up for foster care, you sign up to love the children who come into your home for however long they are there. You might think, "But what if you love them and they have to go home?" or "But what if you end up adopting when you're not mentally prepared for that?" My only response is not sufficient, but will do for now: It's not about us.
2. It's important to build community with people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures
We took an entire class on "cultural competency," and understanding the importance of integrating culture into our rhythms as parents. We said we would take a child of any race because we wanted to open our home to any kid in need. We thought, "Okay, so if we get a kid of different race, we will find those people and surround ourselves with them." What we should have done was start building community with people different from ourselves. (Also, this is not just a foster care thing. This is a church thing.)
3. Adoption in and of itself fixes nothing
Adoption is a beautiful thing. It gives children a new name, makes them officially part of the family, and might give stability. But for some kids, the word "adoption" may have painful connotations. For example, if a kid comes from a failed adoption, they are not going to love the word or the idea of it. Adoption might give some stability, but it doesn't heal the trauma that they face. I didn't really understand the complexity of adoption -- that healing is a long and slow process that extends way past adoption day. (For more perspective on this, follow the #adoptee hashtag on Instagram)
4. Many of the trauma behaviors your kids will have will be directed towards you.
When we started the process of foster care, we were ready to handle all the trauma behaviors that would enter our home. We were armed and dangerous with Karyn Purvis's methods and watched all of her videos. (We totally thought it was bogus until we actually needed it in our home.) We were excited to come swooping in, ready to help bring healing, love, and grace to a child in need. What we weren't prepared for is that a lot of the anger and sadness and confusion comes out in misbehaviors that are directed towards parents. Many times, we are under attack in our household for things we did not do or say. We face rejection from our children every single day. I didn't think that I would need therapy or counseling, but I do. I wish I had gone to counseling earlier because when it comes down to it, their behaviors are not their fault and not my fault either. I have had to learn how to cope with this daily, and it has brought me to a very real awareness of my need for God.
5. People will not understand.
People who do not have contact with the foster care and adoptive world do not quite understand the depth of the battles that we face in our homes. I think deep down I knew this, but I had hoped that people would start to understand once they were face-to-face with our kids and saw our struggles, but this is not necessarily the case. You have to advocate for yourself and tell people how they can help and maybe even what they should say. People usually want to help; they just need a little push in the right direction.
6. You will experience suffering.
Philippians 1:29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.
God's heart is for the vulnerable, the outcast, the poor, and the least of these (See: Isaiah 58, Matthew 25). As an Enneagram 2 and person who has always cared deeply for "mercy ministry," I was so excited to start foster care to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to show up for a kid in need, to open up our home to the least of these. But I think I had an idealized picture of what this would look like. When we bring light to dark places, we have to enter the darkness. The darkness cannot overcome the light (John 1:5), but it doesn't extinguish the darkness immediately. Choosing to enter into our kids' darkness is choosing to enter into their suffering.
James 1:2-4 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
7. Prayer will no longer be an obligation, but a lifeline.
Prayer used to be so hard for me. I felt like I was talking to myself and that my prayers didn't matter. It felt robotic, like I had to show up and say the right things and praise God in order feel close to Him or be able to ask Him for things that I needed.
Last summer was extremely tumultuous. Every day, I would wake up, not knowing what kinds of behaviors I would face or how I would handle it. I never knew if what I was doing was right, and since I'm a teacher and have the summers off, I dealt with the uncertainty and anxiety all day every day. Throughout this time, I would become extremely overwhelmed and escape to my bathroom for respite. I am a verbal processor, but didn't have anyone to talk to me about the rising anger I felt about my lack of control and inability to maintain peace in my own home (until TJ got home from work). So I took out my phone, and typed out the most honest, raw prayers I have ever prayed. I used some choice words. I said some things I probably shouldn't have. I would enter into that place thinking There's no way God will meet me here again. I've messed up too much. I've said all the wrong things. I'm too angry. But, every single time, God met me there. I felt the compassion of God cover me, His grace fill my veins, and His strength bolster me.
A real-life prayer that I have on my phone:
I am so angry.
Please give me compassion.
Please help me to love.
Please calm me down.
I am so angry.
Give me strength. Give me grace to be more like you.
I need you, Lord.
Be near me.
Come to my rescue.
I am so tired. I am so weary.
8. Jesus will be inexplicably close to you.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I don't have a lot of close friends who have done foster care or who have adopted, especially older kids. (I wish we had built community ahead of time). Throughout our time in foster care and adoption, I have felt incredibly alone, like no one really understands our storms and struggles. I think it would have been really easy to believe that God had abandoned us, since it felt like He wasn't answering our prayers and our lives felt like a constant struggle. But, His nearness to me is hard to deny. In moments of sincere pain, I felt his presence tangibly. My daily prayer was God be with me. Though it didn't feel like He was answering our prayers for healing and peace in our home, he was certainly with us. And isn't this what He promises us? Not a life of ease or comfort, but a life where we cling closely to our Creator who loves us.
Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
9. God will work for your kids in ways that you can not even imagine right now.
When our son, K, first came to us in 2017, we were overwhelmed with being new parents, having new responsibilities, figuring out meals, school, doctors appointments, hair care, and about a million other things. But God was working behind the scenes to provide for K in ways that I could have never anticipated: He provided sweet neighbors with two boys about K's age and a mom and grandma (our beloved Granny B) who immediately loved him (and we love them!) Another adoptive family from church had a son the exact same age as K, and he was also in K's class at school. The same has been true for KK. God has proven himself when He says that He defends the cause of the widow and the orphan. He does, in and through us, but also in a million other big and small ways, if we stop to pay attention.
10. God will work in you in ways that that you can not even imagine right now.
Last week at my counseling appointment, my counselor said, "I want you to be encouraged. This is what the Christian life IS. We dismiss the prosperity gospel and say that it is not true. But when we dismiss the prosperity gospel, we are inviting the true Gospel into our lives." The true Gospel involves suffering, as Christ did. And it is not suffering for suffering's sake. It is suffering for the sake of becoming more like Jesus, of being most satisfied in Him.
She continued, "It may seem like there are hard things going on all around you, and like there isn't peace in your home. But God is at work in you. You are going to Him in your moments of anger and anxiety, and you weren't before."
My life before foster care wasn't necessarily easy, but it was pretty comfortable. I pretty much did what I wanted, and I don't know that I would be able to say that I desperately needed God. In fact, it probably would have pained me to say that because I wanted to believe that I could do my life on my own, on my own terms. I was pretty self-sufficient. God has worked that little lie right on out of my system through my two beautiful kids. And for that, I am forever grateful.