We had shared with some friends this stirring in our hearts, when one read a notice in the paper that some judges were hosting a meeting to discuss the foster care crisis with community leaders. This meeting was open to the public. I didn’t even go – but she did. She said she wondered the whole time why she was there, but still thought I needed to go. So, we went to the next meeting together. We didn’t have any answers, so we just listened.
Over the next year, I would do a lot of listening.
I listened to those judges.
I made an appointment with the supervisor over DFCS, and Brian and I went and just listened.
I listened to other Christians I met, whose hearts were also stirring.
We went to meetings hosted by non-profits and listened to their models, ideas, successes and limitations.
I met foster parents for lunch or coffee. I just listened to their stories, their needs, and the wisdom they had to share.
I read everything I could get my hands on. I devoured blogs. I read articles- like the one about a college student that had aged out of foster care and was offering to pay someone to pretend to be her family for Christmas. No presents needed – she just wanted somewhere to go and feel like part of a family, even if only for a few hours.
I was simply swept up the current; following the evidence of His movement so I didn’t miss any. He was showing me something – I just wasn’t sure what yet. But I was listening. I was learning.
I learned that nationwide, there are over 400,000 children in foster care- through no fault of their own.
I learned that if just one family from every church fostered one child we wouldn’t have a foster care crisis at all.
I learned that though numbers fluctuate, THIS county had over 500 kids in foster care and only around 160 beds (beds, not homes) available. Kids that had to be removed from bad situations not only endured the trauma of separation, but sometimes they must be transported all over the state – where ever there was a foster home available.
Separated from parents.
Sometimes sent to a different city.
Sent to a new school.
Often separated from siblings.
Now overworked social workers were driving hours to take children to available homes, transporting them back for visitation, and spending hours away from a desk where paperwork would be waiting for them when they returned- exhausted and empty. They’d have to appear in court, where people were never happy to see them. (Hint: they don’t do it for the money). Sometimes they’d even have to put children up in a hotel because there was simply no place for them to go. Not just the “hard to place teens” either- but even young children.
I learned that the supervisor for this region of DFACS cared deeply and went to meetings on her personal time to try and recruit foster parents, and help others figure out how to help stand in the gap for these kids. As I got to know her, I loved her. She worked long hours. She worked after hours.
I learned that the area judges were good, godly men who cared. They were professional, yet compassionate. They were wise, yet not jaded. They cared about their city and the children there. They prayed for them. They looked for solutions. I’d see them at community meetings during work hours, and I would see these same men show up to meetings after work. I saw them hopeful and at times I saw them deeply discouraged.
There were certainly people that cared, but they were already doing everything they could and giving all they had. They were on the front lines, daily facing down tragedy and trauma, and they were weary.
I was listening. I would lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling and searching for the answers. But God wasn’t looking for my answers. He already had His own.
On Sundays, I would go to church.
I would watch my youngest son walk up the aisle for children’s church- my son who, at birth, was placed directly into foster care. We didn’t adopt him until 21 months old. Now five, I would watch him run to his favorite people as they greeted him with big hugs. Grown men would stoop to give high fives. Women would scoop him up for a kiss. Some would sneak him treats. Not a Sunday passed that I didn’t hear people in front of or behind me whisper to each other how they “just love him” and “he is so cute”. I’d watch how loved he was by the whole church.
And I would swallow the lump in my throat and pretend I’d slept the night before.
David Platt once said, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” My son is not an orphan. He is a spoiled little boy with more than he could want or need- both physically and emotionally. Yet, sometimes I can’t stop my brain from going there … what if? What if he was still caught in that broken system? What if….?
Would a church still be there to love him like Jesus?
These children were just like my son. And where was the Church?
Hasn’t loving the hurt and the broken ALWAYS been the call of the church?
I was listening, and God is a God Who speaks.
Luckily, others were listening too. The leadership, including our pastor believed too. It was within reach and I could glimpse this beautiful story God was weaving. I could see where this was going and I was determined to have a front row seat to watch what He was about to do.
Unfortunately, there are some things God doesn’t show us ahead of time. I know it’s for our own good. We are frail and some things are too hard. Oh, I was sure now that our church would rise to fill in the gap.
What I didn’t know was that we were about to walk through a devastating loss of our own.
To be continued…