As I stood there watching him sleep, I was reminded of the terrible reality that there are 430,000 children just like him in foster care across our country—and not nearly enough families to take them in. I had tiptoed into the room so I wouldn't wake him. Laying on a mattress wrapped in his red 'blankey' was a napping three-year-old little boy. While typically an explosion of energy, loudly bouncing around from one toy to the next, he lay there asleep and looked so peaceful.
We had received a call from Child Protective Services (CPS) a few days before saying there was a child in need of a temporary home. We accepted, and it wasn't long before a blue-eyed boy with long reddish-brown hair entered our lives.
'I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT'
Fostering is hard. A child comes into our home, alters the norm of our everyday lives for a number of weeks or months, and then by government order leaves as quickly as he or she came. Many find it difficult that we regularly let children we've grown attached to go back home, usually never to see them again. People often say to us, "I just don't know how you do it." That bewildered statement implies that we have some special gift or ability that others don't have, but the truth is, we don’t.
Foster care is hard at every level. It's hard when you first get a child. When a worker brings by a snoozing child at 3 a.m., your family is forced to make quick adjustments. Numerous scheduling changes have to be made. It might mean pulling the spare bed out of the attic, or it might mean running to the store for diapers and wipes.
And yes, it's hard when you've grown close to a child and they return to their family. Reunification is always the goal, so we rejoice when it happens, but that doesn’t make it easy. The last child was a part of our family for nearly a year. We celebrated her first birthday. We watched her take her first steps and heard her first words. Then one day the court decided it was time for her to go home, and just like that, she was gone.
GIVING US MORE THAN WE CAN BEAR
The challenges of foster care from beginning to end are often more than we can bear. It’s a struggle to incorporate another child into our family dynamic. The behavioral issues are frustrating and overwhelming at times. Juggling home inspections, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, and visitations can quickly zap our strength. It’s heart-wrenching to hear a child crying in the middle of the night, “My mommy doesn’t love me anymore!” while trying to convince her that’s not the case. We become well acquainted with our own weaknesses when we face these burdens.
On one occasion, I was exhausted and just about at the end of my rope. Already wondering if I was in over my head, I walked into our foster child’s room (who was supposed to be sleeping) and he had destroyed the room. I’m typically not a crier, but I wanted to weep at that moment. As I cleaned up the mess, I uttered to the Lord, “God, we need your help.” At that moment, I was reminded of my own helplessness and weakness.
But in our weakness, we are reminded that Christ is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). The Alpha and Omega never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4). He sees every tear shed and frustration expressed. By his power, not only did he speak everything into existence, but he continues to hold all of creation together by the power of his word (Col. 1:16-17). He is the one who sends forth the lightning and provides for the ravens. At his command the eagle mounts up, and he measures all the waters of the earth in the hollow of his hand. The nations are like a drop in a bucket to him, he stretches out the heavens like a curtain. He calls the stars by name, and because of his strength, not a single one goes missing (Job 38-40; Isaiah 40:9-31).
I’m not strong enough to face the challenges that come with foster care, but he certainly is. The great promise for the believer is that this powerful God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). We live moment by moment, depending on him and trusting that he will give us the exact amount of grace needed for each trying time.
HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT
I trust that the Lord, in his sovereignty, brings these children to our home. He sees every child’s unique situation and struggles. It's easy to doubt this, though. In spite of the teaching of the popular cliché, the Lord will give more than we can handle at times. He is gracious to take us to the end of our strength so we that we learn to rely on his. Without his grace, we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t handle another heart-breaking "good-bye." We couldn’t survive another long day filled with the challenges of foster care. Thankfully though, in those moments, his grace proves to be enough.
The staggering number of children in foster care can make us feel powerless. We often want to bring massive change all at once, but the Lord doesn't always work that way. While I wish I could help all the children in foster care, I simply can't.
But as I stood in my room that day watching that little boy sleep peacefully with his red blanket, I realized that even though we can't bring mass change, perhaps the Lord can use us to make a massive change in his life. We can't help all 430,000, but we can help this one.
That’s why we foster—to overwhelm the life of one child with the love of Christ for as many days as we get to share with him.
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
Scripture reminds us often of the Lord's heart for the vulnerable and oppressed, especially orphans (James 1:27). His heart breaks for the 430,000. And as God's people, ours should too. We should be the most willing to die to our comforts, our dreams, and our convenience for the sake of the vulnerable and orphaned.
I recognize not everyone can take a child in, but we can all serve foster children in some way. There are ministries that provide creative ways for anyone to contribute by ministering to foster families and CPS workers. Some help collect needed items (clothes, car seats, etc.) that foster families can use, or help provide “parent’s night out,” where they offer childcare. Others adopt CPS workers and try to minister to them through encouraging notes and gifts. There may not be a ministry like this in your community, and if so, there's an opportunity to start one through your local church.
It’s not easy, but the Lord’s grace is sufficient. His strength is perfect to overcome every frustration and obstacle in foster care.
In our short time of fostering, we've cared for babies with meth in their system; we've had children from homes where they were left to live in their own feces; we’ve received precious children that bear the image of God, from dysfunctional and broken homes.
When you engage in foster care, you get a front-row view of the depravity of man. You get a glimpse into the darkness. But it's in the darkest places that the church's light can shine the brightest.
James Williams has served as an Associate Pastor at FBC Atlanta, TX since 2013. He is married to Jenny and they have three children and are actively involved in foster care. He is in the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. You can follow James Twitter or his blog where he writes regularly.