Visit days are hard days. Our foster is the one who has to travel, even though our foster is not the one who chose to move away. To visit a parent that, honestly, they do not really know. Nap time will be missed. Our evening will be filled with a fussy baby. Our night will be disrupted with a restless, scared baby. Because visits trigger trauma. I don’t have an answer for any of this. I don’t know how DHS can better do the work to reunify while protecting the child from further trauma. There are certainly things that can be done better. Much better. But the truth of the matter is that this whole thing is messy and there are no simple answers.
Here’s what I do know. We are all part of this problem and we are all going to pay for this problem. All. Of. Us. Christians who are too comfortable and preoccupied to stand in the gap for a child. Extended families who didn’t step in for the safety of a child sooner. Society, because we have said you are only worth what you contribute. Because the large percentage of these kids will age out and fill our prisons and homeless shelters and welfare system and repeat the cycle. Churches who were too busy growing numbers and sitting safely inside their walls rather than penetrating their communities with the gospel to reach the parents of the children who are taken away. All of this could have been prevented. If we had done what Jesus commanded. But we didn’t. We preferred our walls and our pews and our programs. Because people are too messy and broken for us to mess with. We would rather sit in condemnation and criticism of these parents for not having their lives more together like ours. Never considering that maybe they never had anyone teach them anything or any better. Because they come from a broken mess themselves and are so broken that it all seems normal. And the drugs are the escape from the mess of their life. And we will be held just as accountable for their actions because we did not give them the hope of the gospel. We did not get into our communities with recovery and life skills and mentoring and truth wrapped in hope and love and grace. No, we would rather sit in our Sunday spot and feel safe and secure and self-righteous. Yet, our Savior says, “if you have loved the least of these you have loved me.” We are filled with sin and we will stand before His throne one day and answer. How do we not see that our souls were once just as lost and unloved and broken and ugly as the lives of these parents in which we stand is such condemnation? Yes, there are parents who choose the drugs and the sex and the broken life over their child. But, can we please just get off our pedestals and ask why? Why would they make that choice because the choice is an indicator of the condition of the heart and we are people who should know, all of life is a heart issue and we know the One who gives a new heart and a new hope and a new home. Have we ever considered how hard it is for the ones who really do want to get their life together to get their life together? They cannot afford a car or rent, but they have no where to live other than the hell hole they are in and they can’t even afford an outfit for a job interview and if they could get some undependable friend to give them a ride to the job interview and an employer actually took a chance on them, they would get fired in a week anyway, because they had no way to get there. And if someone did take a chance to hire them, it would be a minimum wage job and they don’t know how to budget their money to make ends meet.
This child who I just dropped off at daycare only to be picked up by a DHS stranger and driven far longer in a car seat than what this child should have to ride to sit two hours at a fast food restaurant with a mom she barely knows. One day, this child will know. The foster teenagers who age out. They all know. They know they are not wanted. Because we’ve based our value of them on the choices of their parents. Our lack of action has said to them, “We do not want you because of who you came from.” How dare us. Because we have a heavenly Father who declares, “I will call she who is unloved, beloved.” Yet, we have not loved them with His love. These children are hard. They are hard because they have been traumatized and forgotten and neglected. They are hard because they have gone hungry and they haven’t had water in months, or ever, for a bath. Then they go to school with kids who are clean and cute. Who can get the grades and the academic accolades but they know when they go home, they don’t have food and their mom will be strung out and forget a dad, who knows what guy will be there tonight. So grades are the least of their concern, survival is. Yes, they are angry and hard and exhausting. Because they are hurting. Their hearts are broken. And they don’t just need our stuff. Yes, donate your clothes and your things to help a child. Many days, that’s how a foster parent makes it. But can I lovingly say, they need our hearts more. They need someone to look at them and say, I want you. The greatest pain a human heart knows is that of being unwanted. And we are sending thousands of broken hearts into the world with that reality. The reality of being unwanted. Not merely disliked by some classmates, like our kids might experience. Literally unwanted, by parents and entire communities-these children know and we have confirmed it to them. They are unwanted. At the very least, not worth the effort. These children need to know that their parent moved heaven and earth to get it together. And that we held them up and helped them along because they cannot not do it on their own.
We have made our own children matter more. Ensuring our own have every opportunity in the world. Yet, we have created a world for our children where they will now have to coexist with a population of broken, messy, angry, shut-down souls. That will become citizens who think they have no worth and who see no worth in the ones who didn’t see them as worthy. Adults who repeat the cycles their parents modeled for them, because no one showed them any different. People who fill our prisons and our streets. And our kids will be standing in the same spot of condemnation as us, wondering why those people don’t have it together like them. Because that’s what we’ve taught them. But my child and your child do not have more worth and value than these children simply because they were fortunate enough to have parents who could provide for them. We all stand in equal worth before the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
As Christians, we are a people that base our entire belief system on the truth that God is Creator of this world. But His perfect world was destroyed by sin. So He sent His son to rescue us. Do we realize that means this child, too? I wrestle with the why. Why does He allow this to happen to these children? Yet, God has reframed that question more accurately for me: Why have WE allowed this to happen to these children? Because God has told us this is a broken world-that is the reason for the need of our entire faith. And in this broken world filled with broken hearts and minds and lives, there are broken parents who make broken choices. But, the gospel says, I make all things new. The gospel says, I set you free from your broken bondage. Not, “I will make your life look as good as mine”-this is not some social ladder garbage. These parents and these kids are not our projects and they do not need our pity. They need us loving them they way Christ has loved us. Otherwise, we are all frauds. Because Jesus says, “If you do not love, you do not know me.” The gospel is about the heart because when the heart is made new, the soul is set free from sin. And every one of us would be any one of these parents had we known the reality of their stories and circumstances and not been rescued by our Savior and not had homes filled with hope and love.
This broken world means parents are going to make broken choices. And Jesus made it clear that we are to enter the brokenness. He has called us to be what they cannot be and choose not to be for their kids. And we are called to help them learn to be what they do not know how to be for their kids. God did make a way for all of this whole mess not to happen: Us. And this is all only going to get worse. Until churches and Christians begin to step into their communities to reach parents, meeting them where they are and patiently walking with them to Jesus. Until churches and Christians decide that all children, even the unwanted ones, are worthy and worth it. Until churches and Christians decide to get their hands messy and be the feet of Jesus by stepping outside the comfort of their good lives and church pews.
I realize, I really do, that not everyone actually can foster. Although, I think more can than what are willing. But just start somewhere. Start by becoming a certified volunteer that can tutor or mentor a teen foster child. Start by becoming a respite foster parent. Start by becoming a CASA advocate. Start by launching a foster family ministry in your church. Start by taking a meal to a foster family. Start by asking Jesus to open your eyes so that your heart is broken and moved to action. We will answer to God as to why these children do not believe they have a Heavenly Father who loves them, because they saw no evidence of Him through us.