I crept into the room for the 4th time that evening. She was asleep in a bed we bought earlier in the summer, hoping to put it to good use. It was now 2 in the morning, and I just couldn’t help but look in on her one last time before bed to make sure she was warm, sleeping well, and not lying there awake in terror. I suppose I worry about her; plus she’s cute when she’s sleeping, and she surely needed tucked in. When you have a foster kid, especially one that’s 7 years old and has seen some things-she-shouldn’t-have-seen before arriving in your home last week, you want to make sure she’s fine – just one more time before bed. She was, of course. She doesn’t know it yet, but it brought me great joy to see it. At least for now, she can leave the concern to me. This is her home now, and I’ll take care the stuff she’s used to worrying about so she can concentrate on learning to read, learning to deal with her feelings, and remembering how to be a kid. As long as God gives me strength and ability, I’ll move mountains to keep her that way; safe and warm, able to rest, learning new things. My wife will take care of making dinner, I’ll take care of protecting her and her brothers. Let her concentrate on math class, or her dollhouse for once.
It was my turn to bathe the boys that night. Her wee little brother, a toddler, has endless energy even in the bathtub. My bathroom is soaked, and for a little guy he sure gets into a lot. That’s okay, it’s just stuff. His teeth are brushed, his diaper is fresh, and his pajamas are clean. He’s sleeping now, surrounded by more stuffed animals than seems sane. They were sitting in boxes a few weeks ago, along with the crib we’ve owned for years but never used as we hoped to have naturally born children that never came. We kept the crib — waiting for God to place a little one in it.
His older brother loves to snuggle and laugh. When I finally pried him away from his bath toys and wrapped him in a towel, he crawled into my lap as I dried him off. He closed his eyes and snuggled in. “Bath time snuggles are the best, huh kiddo?” “Yeah,” he replied with a smile, “with Daddy.” The kid knew me barely an hour before he committed to calling me “Daddy.” He wants a Dad. He needs one too and I’m happy to oblige. It still brings tears to my eyes to hear him say it. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next 15 or so years without turning into a regular crier.
These may seem like small things to the average person. Fresh diapers, clean pajamas, a cute little girl asleep in her room, bath time, Dr. Suess and Bible before bed, songs to learn the ABCs, hymns sung as lullabies. I guess they are small things. But to these little ones asleep in my extra bedrooms, from their perspective? I suspect they loom quite a bit larger.
I thought about those things as I tucked my little guys into their beds after checking in on their sister. They make me smile. They make me afraid too. I’ve never had anything bring me so much joy, and drive me to my knees in sober realism quite like being a foster dad. There isn’t a foster kid in the system that doesn’t carry baggage. The “lucky” ones escape abuse and are merely neglected (merely!). Some have had things done to them that would and should drive any decent person to righteous indignation. Almost all of them come from broken homes, and carry with them broken lives. Almost all of them have been run over and dragged through the proverbial dirt. Then they fall into a system that couldn’t find its backside with two hands, a map, and a flashlight. A system that often can’t decide what to do and literally doesn’t have the moral framework to figure out what’s best. A political system. A professional system. A cold system. Yet a system that, within it, has families just like mine and others that genuinely are doing their best to love and care for these kids.
Our friends have taken a liking to calling my wife and I “super heroes”. Truth be told, I hate the nickname and bristle at it internally every time I hear it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate our sweet friends trying to be complimentary and encouraging. It’s simply that it isn’t true. We’re not super, and we’re not heroes. We ARE Christians. We’re people who have their doubts and sins. We’re people who get tired and cranky. We’re people who owe a debt we could never repay, whose hearts are dark and desperately wicked apart from Christ. We have nothing good in us except for Jesus. He’s the hero. He’s the one who rescued us both, who taught us what was right, who inspired us to do good, and who broke our hearts again and again for orphans. He’s our everything. He’s our only thing. But HE is enough! Don’t call us heroes, call us slaves to the Most High. We serve those kids because we love those kids; but as I told my first foster son when I said my last goodbye to him — we love those kids because Jesus first loved us. How great is our God who always knows what’s best for His children!
I suppose that’s why I decided to write this series. I want the church to know what’s really happening here, Who is really doing the work, and who is really responsible. There is no super-hero origin story, just a loving God who knew what was best for my wife and me. We thought having a few of our own and then maybe adopting someday was best. I want the church to know we were wrong. It’s these little ones who now hold our hearts, and we are better people because of that. I want the church to know why we were wrong, and I want the church to know that their hearts can be held by foster children too: to know what that really means, what it will really cost them, and why it may be best for them as well. I want the church to KNOW we’re responsible. All of us. This matters to God, and so it must matter to us. I want them to know God values and cherishes these broken little ones, and we must cherish them too. Who else will love them if we do not? I want the church to know the potential held by of a generation of broken hearts, run over by the sins of others, raised up by God fearing people determined to love them and be used of God to repair the damage done.
I want the church to know the high calling of foster care.
I want the church to see that we’ve gotten off track by giving this function over to the state. I want to outline what it means to be a good foster parent. I hope to help people get started in foster care so they can experience the joy I have when I look in on those kiddos just one more time before bed. I want giggles and mud pies and broken hearts and the pure joy of seeing an orphan overcome her fears and traumas. I want the soaring bliss of hearing a strange little voice call them “Mom” or “Dad.” I want those long nights as my fellow believers, dying to themselves, rock a 5 year old to sleep — crying and weeping over him and the terrible things done to him that keep him awake all night long. Oh what sweet prayer you’ll have with him! Oh how your worship will be full! I want it all for the church — the joys, the sorrows, the highs, the lows. It’s what we’re designed to do, it’s what we’re called to, and it’s what we don’t do nearly enough.
This series will examine those ideas, and it is my hope it encourages many to take up their cross and follow Christ in a way they have not yet done, but are being called to do by God. May we embrace this as we should embrace every mission field — with vigor, preparedness, a high view of the task at hand, and a drive to glorify the God who is honored in laboring to complete the task. As you prayerfully consider this series, my hope is God will bless you and inspire you to be involved in some capacity. My prayers are with you, and with the many orphans that will fill your churches, your lives and, by God’s grace, your homes.
See all posts in this series
The High Calling of Foster Care
The Saddest Day in Church History NO ONE Talks About
The Father of the Fatherless
Pure and Undefiled Religion
Myths and Truths About Foster Care, Part 1
Myths and Truths About Foster Care, part 2