When Tom asked me to share, I almost didn't do it. In fact I took forever to get back to him, because I WANTED to be able to do it, but the emotions I feel with this are still so raw and deep and I just wasn't sure I could manage it. But I think what I have to say needs to be shared.
First of all, I'm so thankful for our foster care journey. Let me preface by saying, if you in part have ever had an inkling toward fostering, or if you do after hearing this, please talk to me. Also, there are numerous practical ways you can support foster parents. We have been so grateful for the prayer, emotional and even some financial support we've received from a number of people here.
So here goes. After 9 months of preparation, August 1, we became foster parents. Our family grew from 2, to 4 children, ages 4, 2, 19 months and 16 months. It was crazy. The first few weeks were a blur. Just constant diaper changes and sleepless nights. Pulling children off of each other as they handled their anger and confusion the only way they knew how.
At first, it was easy to love. They're little kids. They are adorable, sweet, and affectionate. But as the newness wore off, toddlers were still toddlers, with all their curiosity and testing of boundaries. And there were signs of trauma that were not only difficult to deal with emotionally, they were frustrating to live with on a day to day basis. It is hard.
Before we went into this, I knew there would be challenges, but its different when you start living it, and feeling it. Fostering is a very lonely road. It is very isolating when so many of your interactions include the words "I admire you." or "I could never do what you are doing." Or "I don't know how you do it." I'll tell you how:
I stumble through it.
I fail a lot.
I hoped that would be showing our kids this shining example of caring for orphans and widows. Of opening our home to strangers. Of clothing and feeding those who needed clothing and food. Of loving the poor. Instead, I've shown them what it means to obey God and follow Him, even when its hard, even when you mess up. I'm setting an example of confession, repentance, and forgiveness, both giving and receiving. And more recently, when my weariness and brokenness over my own failures has reached its peak, I've shown them what it is to pray constantly, to ask God for help, to thank Him for everything, and to see God answer prayer.
I have questioned this path so many times. Because its hard, because it doesn't always feel good, because it reminds me of my weakness all. the. time. There are many times where its a joy, when it feels easy, and delightful. And then there are times when it is nothing but absolute obedience to follow through on what we said we would do.
I wish I could say that I depended on the Lord constantly. The reality is though, that through this experience, I've experienced something that I haven't experienced before in my life as a Christian. There was concept that I knew to be true, but hadn't experienced in my daily life. It's this: I need him.
I need him.
I need him every hour, every minute, every second.
Many, many times I did not recognize that need in the difficult moments. In the last few months, I have seen things in my own heart that make me cringe.
I need him, not because I'm a good person looking to be better. But because my heart is wicked, and I can't even be NICE without his help. I have seen the depth of my own sin, and recognize that if I want to change, there is no book on parenting, no tool I can add to my toolbox, NOTHING that I can do other than ask for his help, his grace, his wisdom, by the minute. He is the source of every good thing, and He is the one who can shapes me into something new.
My default setting is to figure things out on my own. I am begging God to change my default from independence, to dependence. I want the REALITY that I need him to permeate every moment of my life.
If you know my story at all, you know that this is a complete shift from where I was three years ago. I have recognized again how great my sin is, not in an ALL have sinned sort of way, but in an I AM THE CHIEF OF SINNERS sort of way. I've seen how deep my need for God is, but I also am encouraged to see how much God has changed my heart in the last 10 years, from one of doubt and unbelief, just hoping that God would someday take the little kernel of faith that remained in my apathetic, doubting heart, and turn it back to him. So to see this sort of change, is a very present reminder that God does this! He changes people!
This has been a big year for us. It was about a year ago that we were filling out paperwork to become foster parents. We went through the class, did the home study, and were approved. At the same time, on what I thought was a whim, Joshua started the application process to be a park ranger, which he went to college for. So about three weeks ago, after 10 months of jumping through hoops, he took a job at Lake Anna State Park, about 3 hours from here. This means big changes for our family, most of which all starts tomorrow. I start my first full time job working since becoming a mom. The kids will have a full time babysitter. Joshua will be leaving for 7 weeks of working at the park before returning home to attend the Police Academy in Salem for a few months.
Another change that will be taking place has been a really difficult one to make. As much as I've learned to persevere through our experience in foster care, we are also getting some experience with when its time to let go. Our foster children will be moving to a new home tomorrow. Since making this decision, the voices in my head are throwing doubt and guilt at me from every angle. Should we have never fostered instead of causing them to have to move again? What's going to become of them? Will they remember us? Will we ever be the same after experiencing the second-hand trauma of foster care? I wish I would have been a better mom to them in the short time I had. I made so many mistakes. What do people think? Do they think we're giving up? The list goes on and on.
All these thoughts bombarding me gives me plenty of opportunity to live in dependence on God, more opportunities to recognize my need of Him every moment, for Him to give me words of truth. Someone said recently, "Just because its hard, doesn't mean it wasn't what you should have done. It doesn't mean we heard God wrong. In fact, often it is the opposite."
From these four months, I think I'm now less likely to run away from hard things, because I know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. So often people have told us "I've thought about fostering, but I don't think I could handle it." Neither did we. Neither CAN we, except by the grace of God. So it is with all of life.