This week, Randy and I completed the first of several classes to become certified as foster parents in the state of Missouri. This is one of many official steps that we have to complete before we can have foster children in our home. But is also part of a larger journey that we have been on for quite some time.
Over the last few months when we’ve shared with friends and family members that we are starting on this journey, we’ve often been asked the question, “What made you want to become foster parents?”
It’s not a bad question; in fact, it’s one of the first questions they ask you in the interviewing process to become foster parents. But it’s not really an easy one to answer in just a few words.
For me, the best way I can describe it is that it is a sense of calling—similar to my call to ministry I first felt on my life many years ago. That does not mean that my call to fostering is one of wide-eyed naivety. I know that this is going to be hard and painful and difficult. (Just as any good pastor knows that you don’t exactly go into the ministry for the great pay or because it is a cush job.) And like when I initially experienced my call to ministry at the age of twelve, I didn’t know what all it involved at the time, but I had this deep sense of peace and reassurance that it was the right thing to do—not that I wasn’t scared or nervous, but I knew that I would ultimately feel worse if I ignored or disregarded God’s call.
One of my favorite parts of the class is when we all went around and shared why we were interested in becoming foster parents. Those in the room shared so many different and beautiful reasons why they were there: some were in the system themselves as kids; others had foster kids in their home growing up or adopted siblings out of foster care. Others were in helping professions (pastors, teachers, mental health professionals, behavioral care specialists) and were there because they saw such a need for people to take in kids in state care. A surprising amount of people were hoping to adopt children out of the foster care system. Many expressed a desire to open up their home and share their resources to kids in need. Some, like ourselves, felt a call from God to share their blessings with others, and kids in foster care seemed like a good place to start.
Randy and I have so many resources—solid incomes, a stable life, and a safe, warm and loving home—that could benefit kids and their biological families who are trying to get back on their feet. At any given time, there are over 470,000 kids in the foster care system in the U.S.; if we could make a difference in the lives of just a few of those kids, isn’t that a good enough reason?
So maybe the better question is, “Why wouldn’t we do this?”
If we as followers of Christ are truly called to live out the Kingdom of God here on earth, why wouldn’t we share our resources with others in need? Why wouldn’t we open our home up to kids who need a place to stay? Why wouldn’t we bless those around us with what we have been given?
Since the call of Abraham, followers of God have been blessed in order to be a blessing to others. As our Jewish brothers and sisters understand it, this call as a “chosen people” isn’t a special privilege; it is a moral obligation and a challenge to make the world a better place. As Christians, we also have been charged with this calling.
My other favorite part of the first class session was some of the language that our instructor used to describe the work we’ll do as foster parents. She herself had been a foster parent to over one hundred kids and adopted her own four kids out of the system. At one point she said:
“This is sacred work we are doing.”
She went on to describe some of the deep wounds, emotional traumas, and attachment issues that most children in the system have already experienced by the time they end up in our care. Fostering is the natural result of a broken relationship, and that’s why the wounds are so deep in these kids who don’t always understand what is happening or why they have been taken away from their parents and siblings. Attachment disorders are so common, she explained,
“Because we were created for relationships.”
Remember, this is a class run by a state-sponsored non-profit agency. It is in no way religious or tied to a church or Christian organization. Yet those two statements could have easily been found in a seminary class or church Bible study.
Like a sense of being called to fostering, this sacramental and holy language deeply resonated with me. (One of the hazards of being a pastor, I suppose. You see burning bushes around every corner.)
But our instructor was also brutally honest with us. She said that at the end of this process, many of us may decide not to become foster parents, and some of us may not be invited to become foster parents by the state. Either one of those outcomes may still be true for us.
Like most calls from God, we’re taking a leap of faith, putting ourselves out there, and trusting in God to do the rest. This is sacred and holy work. Here I am Lord, send me.