Yesterday, our oldest child turned 14. We survived the first year of parenting teens, and we have many, many more to come. Actually, it’s not fair to say we “survived.” It was another exciting year watching this oldest man-child grow into the person the Lord is creating him to be. We actually stand in awe of the Lord’s work in him. He’s a smart, talented, witty, and caring young man who is digging into the Word, studying apologetics, and learning how to boldly share his faith with others. Yes – HIS faith: his assurance. The young boy who listened intently to my explanation of Scripture so many years ago and then bowed his head in our kitchen and prayed, “God, I’m as BAD as the baddest bad guy, and I need You to save me from my sins and be the Lord of my life”…that boy…is a man, and he’s already one of the strongest men I know.
He was 11 the day we pulled him and his brothers aside to tell them what the Lord had been impressing on our hearts about foster-care/adoption. He was 12 the day our first placement arrived. He is our dare-devil, adrenalin junkie, brave-heart child. He’s the one ready to hop on a plane with me and head to another country to live, or hop OUT of a plane with me and skydive for the thrill of saying we did it. I know he gave our proposal some thought, but I don’t recall any hesitation from him. When presented with the need, he and his younger brothers united with us in saying YES. Yes – we will take this next step. Yes – we will see what we can do to make a difference. Yes!
We started trying to prepare the boys for what foster care might look like (though we only knew what we had been told). We explained the circumstances and situations that could cause kids to come into care, and we told them that once we had a child/children in our home, we would not be free to talk with them about those circumstances. Even as we prepared to move forward, we feared what it might do to our kids to be exposed to peers who had experienced trauma they’ve never even heard of. We wondered if our foster-children might divert needed time and attention away from our sons. Worse yet, we wondered if they could end up hurt (physically or otherwise) by a foster-sibling. We feared the boys might grow to regret our choice or resent our ministry. We questioned if this was the “right” thing for our family, and then we looked at our sons and thought – what if it was THEM who needed a safe place? These children in need of homes are just like our children, and our children would be scared, and confused, and traumatized if all that they know was ripped away from them.
When the call we had awaited finally came, it was not quite as we imagined. We had prepared our spare room for a school-aged child. We kept the décor neutral, but hoped it might house a little girl. When we found out the need before us was for not one, but TWO babies, we were stunned. One of our sons showed reluctance, “I don’t know about babies…it seems like they would be a lot of work.” After assuring him he would NOT be asked to do diaper duty, we moved forward with our YES with only a couple of feet dragging. When the day came to meet our babies, it was love at first sight for the boys. I thought the honeymoon period of doting big brothers might come to a screeching halt after a few days, but here we are nearly 2 years later, and not much has changed. Some of our fears were realized…our kids have been faced head-on with circumstances and situations they never would have been exposed to apart from this ministry, but it’s okay. Lots of people wonder (as we did) what foster care will do to their kids. Of course, each family’s experience will be different, but we found that foster care did more FOR our family than it did “TO” us. Here are a few of the things foster care has done for our kids:
- It has taught them to serve. From day one, there was squabbling among our boys over who was going to GET to help little sis with her shoes, or who was going to give baby boy his bottle. We whispered many prayers of thanks for that type of “fighting” and helped them learn to take turns.
- It has given them a glimpse of the past. Reverting back to our baby days allowed us to share many things with our sons that we would not otherwise have thought of sharing. As they giggled at new word attempts, baby smiles, and efforts to jump “high” by a toddler who was firmly planted on the ground, they would ask “Did WE do that?”…. “Did I ever…” and the questions went on and on. We were able to share with them that pretty much every scenario they were observing was something that they too had experienced.
- It has helped them to see beyond themselves. Suddenly, there was a heightened awareness in our home of the need to pitch in and help. Momma and Daddy had always had full time jobs and meals to fix, laundry to tend to, dishes to do, but now it was all being done with another very HUGE task of parenting babies placed on top of it. The boys recognized this and learned to jump in to help without being asked. They asked questions, observed, and learned how to care for the “littles” well. They offered to help with household tasks and showed great patience and understanding for their sleep-deprived Momma. They also learned to see and respond to the needs of their youngest siblings without a second thought. Finally, they grew more aware of the plight of foster children and more able to be sensitive to young people with special needs and life struggles.
- It has made them sparkle. Having a little girl in the house means finding glitter in random places. While the boys don’t love discovering glitter on their clothes or their skin, I have to admit this has been one of the best parts for me. When I have to reach over and brush a fleck of glitter from my husband’s cheek or my son’s shirt, I am immediately filled with gratitude for this funny little reminder that God has blessed us with a girl. Her shoes, her clothes, her hair bows, her personality…SOMEthing almost always has at least a touch of glitter. Our journey through foster care has made these boys sparkle figuratively as well. The challenges we have encountered, the worries we’ve shared, and the times we’ve spent together in prayer have drawn us closer to the Lord and closer to each other. We have stood amazed watching the Lord work in and through these sons of ours to make them not only willing and kind big brothers, but also genuinely loving and compassionate.
If you wonder, like we did, what foster care might do to your kids, I cannot guarantee you that it won’t cause them pain and discomfort. (Our guys have experienced both because of our choice to foster.) I can’t promise they won’t struggle or that everything will be easy. I will say, however, that through the stretching, the changes, and the unknowns, you just might see a beautiful side of your children you haven’t yet discovered, and maybe…just maybe…they will sparkle.