You may have heard me talk about Jayla’s buddy, Max, a time or two here on the blog and on Facebook. This little friendship of 3-year olds has caused a bigger friendship to take root between me and Max’s mommy, Jenna. Earlier this year Jenna and I started having conversations about her and her husband’s heart for adoption. Over the past 6 months I watched as God led this couple to becoming foster care parents. This is a couple who has two tiny children at home and yet, they didn’t let that stop them from signing up to open their front door to strangers in need. This is a couple who is currently in between selling a home and waiting until the time is right to buy again. They didn’t let their temporary living quarters in a townhome hold them back from stepping forward in obedience to what God laid on their hearts. Over the summer they went through the 10 week course to become licensed foster care parents and now have their first placements! I have loved the heart-to-heart talks that Jenna and I have had about how differently you see things once God peels back the layers and confronts you with the needy lives of helpless, vulnerable children. God has personally been teaching Jenna and her husband so much through this adventure of becoming foster care parents. Though they are still new and green in the foster care world, I asked Jenna to write down some of her thoughts about their experience thus far so that we could all get a little glimpse into their adventure…..
First off, a little short back story to how we got to be foster parents. Since I was in high school I can remember feeling that someday I wanted to adopt. I would hear stories of orphans in other countries and my heart would be burdened for them. What started as a small feeling, God grew in me and eventually Nate (my husband) to put that compassion into action and obedience. The further I have grown in my walk with God, the heavier the burden to help orphans has grown and to simply say yes to Him and just obey. I didn't have all the answers...and still don't...but we just said yes to what he laid on our hearts. So after praying and following Nate's leading, we chose foster care over international adoption at this point. Even though I feel that some day we will adopt internationally, right now we are definitely where God wants us.
The fears we had starting out were very unfounded and most had to do with the unknown, because the unknown is very scary if we let it be. We wondered what our extended family would think. Some of them already thought we were a little crazy in our faith, so this would really throw them. We also were concerned about the effects it would have on our biological children. There are fears about getting a child that might hurt one of them or even us. There are fears about not knowing how to parent these 'troubled' kids when we are just learning how to raise our own kids. There are fears about what other people will think about us. So how did we get past these fears? After thinking this through, I see how far God has brought both of us in our faith. I can see that He truly is the one that is determining our course and He has protected us from Satan's attempts to throw us off course. Neither of us dwelled on our fears but rested in our faith. These are all the fear filled thoughts we had, but we didn't allow them to take over our minds or act on them, but instead let God determine the next step. So my answer to anyone who may be filled with lots of fears and trying to figure it all out is to rest in God and let Him guide you in your next step because He is so faithful and He absolutely will. I still have fears that creep in, but I don't let them stop me from obeying. Our God is bigger than our fears.
So right now we have a 7-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl that have been with us since September. I should also say we have a 3-year-old son, Max, and a 10-month-old daughter, Mya, that are our biological children. Every single day has been a learning experience for us. Overall, we couldn't have asked for a better first placement because these kids, despite their circumstances, are remarkable kids. They have fit well in our family and our son adores them both. Right there is one of the victories we have experienced. I know it probably won't always be this way with every placement we have, so I'm thankful that this has been the case this time. So saying that, I'll give you a glimpse of some of the top challenges we have faced.
1) LACK OF INFORMATION! I don't think I could say this enough times and the people closest to me are probably sick of me saying it:) It's very hard to get information on the parents' status, how long the kids will be here, when we go to court next, what happens if the parents don't do what they need to do, et cetera. And since this is our first placement, I really don’t know if this is normal or not, but this has been our experience so far. I do have a ton of compassion for the social workers because I know they are very overworked and are doing their best, but it is still hard to not have any idea how long the kids will be with us or what the probable outcome will be. Especially since the kids are old enough and they ask us these questions. This is an area of learning to rely on God's timing and knowing I really don’t NEED to know every fine detail but to just keep on going.
2) DISCIPLINE. This is a pretty major one for us. The tendency is to want to discipline them the way you would your own kids. The only problem with that is your kids (or at least ours) haven't come from a background anywhere close to foster kids. They haven't experienced neglect, abandonment, abuse, drugs, alcohol, violence, or anything remotely close to what potential foster kids could have gone through. So what may work with your children will most likely not work with foster kids. Another angle is during your licensing classes they suggest taking things away from the foster kids as a form of punishment. That sounds great in theory, but we have found that our foster kids don't value anything. And I feel that our current placements are a very, very mild case. I can only imagine that the more severe the children's behaviors and backgrounds might be, the worse this would be. They have very selfish hearts and like to 'hoard' a lot of things, but they don't value any ONE thing to take it away. So we are still trying to figure out the most effective tools for discipline and doing more training on that.
So those are probably my top 2 challenges we have been faced with so far. Now let me tell you that is nowhere near all of them, but I could probably write a whole book on them.
I'll just briefly share some of the heart challenges I specifically have been dealing with. I'm sure my husband would have totally different ones and I know everyone in similar situations can attest to different personal challenges, but here are some of mine: Probably the biggest heart issue I have had to deal with is my own selfishness. I never realized how extremely selfish I was with pretty much everything God has given me. My time....it requires a lot of time to take care of kids in general, but these are kids who need extra attention, extra love, extra patience, extra everything. It's exhausting. Yet SO worth it. I'm selfish with the time I want with just 'my' kids. There are days I just want to snuggle with my two kids and no one else. I have to realize 'my' kids belong to God and He gave them to me as a gift and we are teaching our kids what it looks like to help those in need and open up our hearts and lives to help other people. That's huge. Every possible area of my life that I could feel selfish with, I have. I know selfishness is something we all have somewhat of a struggle with, but I never knew to what extent I struggled with it. So that is a daily thing God has asked me to lay down so these kids can have hope and a chance in life. Someone said (and maybe it was you, Janel) that opening up your home is like looking in a mirror and it's so true. You lose your idea of 'a perfect little family' but saying all that, I have never seen God work so much in my heart and in our family than what He is doing right now.
One word Nate and I use a lot is PERSPECTIVE. It's so easy to lose perspective on why we are doing this. It's easy to get bogged down with the daily tasks of having 4 very needy children in your home. But we are doing this because we are called to take care of orphans and lay down our lives for our brothers. We know what self sacrifice looks like now. This is not easy. I think one reason God calls us to do 'radical' things is because there is absolutely no way I could do this on my own strength. I HAVE to abide in Him to get through the day. It is completely by Him that I am able to get up in the morning and take care of 4 kids...2 of which are not mine and being completely honest, there are days I'm not sure I even like them, let alone love them. But because this is where God is, I can love them, I can care for them, and I can provide the loving, nurturing home they need. We are doing this to give hope where there is none and to simply be obedient. Usually God provides 'perspective moments' for me throughout my day. When one of the foster kids tells me that Christmas is really about Jesus' birth and Easter is about Jesus' death and resurrection, that's perspective for me. When the other one says that she knows she doesn't have to be scared anymore because she now knows Jesus is always with her, that's perspective for me. And these are coming from mouths that have never been to church before. It's hard work, but the seed has been planted in two people's lives that no matter what their circumstances are, Satan can never take that seed away. Our prayer is God will water it and let it grow. And it's all because we said yes.
Sometimes it's easy to focus on the negative parts of foster care and adoption because that's kind of natural for us. However, I don't want anyone to read this and think that this sounds horrible and way too hard to do. It's hard, it's crazy, it's challenging, it's uncomfortable, it's awkward, it's not human nature, but it is sooo God. He meets us where we need it the most and He works THROUGH us. I can't love these kids on my own, but I can with His strength. Foster kids NEED to be in Christian homes learning about the hope that is possible for them and learning truth. I have this sense of peace and drive to help these kids and their families to know Jesus. It's addicting to say the least. My challenge is for other believers to just say yes to laying down your life for those in need.
For more information on becoming a licensed foster care parent in Iowa visit http://www.iakids.org/