Sitting in the safety of my living room with dear friends gathered around me, my jumbled, teary answer to the simple and sincere question came bubbling out.
"Where are you guys with fostering?"For months they've heard my angst. The tug of war between my heart, my head, and God's call. We are four years in to this fostering journey, believe it or not, and it's time for our biannual license renewal. As this season of paperwork and trainings (trying to smash the last of our 40 hours of required training into an already full calendar) loomed, my heart and head were in full out revolt. And I had a lot of valid reasons.
This summer, chronic back pain I had been experiencing for years came crashing in on me and it was fairly debilitating for a season. After chiropractic and orthopaedic and physical therapy appointments I still wasn't feeling strong enough for the physical demands of caring for a baby.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."Our kids are getting older and homeschooling is getting more intense. Preparation is more intense. Teaching is more intense. Keeping up with their workload is more intense. God has entrusted me with the incredible privilege of teaching my children and I am working so hard to make sure they are prepared with the best education I can give.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."My work for our church is something I love and feel called to do. Fitting in office hours and meetings is already a bit of a challenge with my "Stephens Academy" crew in tow. In the past when we've had newborns, I was part of so many meetings with a tiny baby in my lap or strapped onto my chest - our pastoral staff is wonderful and was so gracious as I bounced babies, tried valiantly to keep socks on their feet, and juggled bottles and burp rags, my Bible, notes, and sometimes a spilled cup of coffee. How would I do this with a child who isn't a newborn, when my back doesn't seem up to caring for a newborn??
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."Don't those seem like valid reasons?? I thought so. I laid them out in a logical argument before the Lord. We had been faithful - and He hadn't opened the door for us to adopt. Now the season when this made sense really had come to a close. Wouldn't He please, please just release us from this, confirm to both of us that we had done our part so we could step out with a clear conscience? But God seemed silent.
After much discussion and prayer and with mixed emotions, NP and I decided to renew our license. We didn't sense that God had given us the green light to be done. Renewing our license gives us two more years of opportunity... and who knows what will happen within two years. But my heart wasn't really in it.
During this time, our church had been going through a period of forty days of fasting and prayer called "Making Space." I cleared out some extra distractions and continued to pray. I also happened to be listening to two audiobooks to earn credit hours for our foster license - The Lucky Few: Finding God's Best in the Most Unlikely Places by Heather Avis, and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore. By the way, if you are trying to rationalize with God why you shouldn't foster or seek to adopt any more, these are not the books to read.
Through that extra time and space with God, through those compelling books, God finally seemed to break His silence on this topic and impressed this on my heart, not in these words, but in this meaning: "You know I called you to do this. That hasn't changed. This never was something you were able to do or something that made sense. I will be faithful - will you?"
It was then, when I surrendered to God - again - and said that we would step into the scary unknown - again - that He gave me clarity on what all of this struggle was really about.
It was about grief.
It was about fear.
It was about fairness.
Four years ago we stepped onto this road with trembling hearts but ready to love with abandon. And we did.
We brought baby D home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. When the county moved him, when no one felt comfortable with where he was going, we ached and grieved... and still do. For weeks I would think that I heard him crying upstairs and remember he was gone. I would find a tiny sock that had been forgotten under a piece of furniture and cry. The fresh loss took months to heal over, but the wound still ached.
A year later we brought baby M1 home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. He was a delightful baby. We let our hearts bond again. And when the county moved him, thankfully to a loving home that we feel very comfortable with, we still ached and grieved. I knew we were part of God's forever plan for M, and that he was exactly where he should be. But the wound was ripped open and ached again - so deeply.
A few months later we brought baby M2 home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. We had been told he would likely only be with us for a week or two. Weeks turned into months, and a glimmer of hope began to shine at the edges of our hearts unbidden... maybe, just maybe, M2 would stay with us. And when the county stretched definitions of kinship and moved him, with very little notice and no transition time for him or for us, the wound was ripped open yet again and the ache was so heavy.
A few months after that, God took us in a radically different direction. We stepped out in crazy, daring faith in the process of adopting L & P, an older sibling pair. This was far, far outside of our original plan - we had trouble articulating why to our social worker - other than just, "this is what we believe God said to do." We went through a crazy, long, emotional process with the county - and when they placed them in a different home... after we bought bunk beds, after we bought a zoo pass with "5" as the number of children, after we had dreamed and pictured life and made arrangements... we felt like we were in a tail spin. We were grieving the loss of kids we had only met one time but who had been very much ours in our hearts and minds. What are you doing, God?? This is what you said! I still believe He took us down that path - perhaps for reasons I will not understand this side of eternity.
A few months after that, we brought baby C home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. Just for a week. And even though C went exactly where he should be, the old wound smarted. It wasn't just him. We were grieving D, and M1, and M2, and L & P. We were grieving this whole stupid system. We were grieving our dream of adoption. We were grieving God's plan being very different from what we had imagined.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."
This was hard. And though my back, and homeschooling, and work were all valid reasons for seriously considering the decision to continue, the fact remained... this was about grief. And fear. And fairness. This didn't feel fair. Why did other families we knew and loved (and were incredibly, deeply happy for) have forever stories... and we had goodbyes?
"Where are you guys with fostering?"My answer bubbled out to my dear friends. God has said keep going. And I don't want to. And it feels unfair. And I am afraid. And I am so, so tired of grieving.
This morning I was reading in Acts 20 of Paul's final, emotional, gut-wrenching conversation with the elders of the church at Ephesus.
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:22-24, ESVOur "suffering" and Paul's don't even come close to lining up - I'm certainly not saying that. But his words leapt off the page to me and resonated with my heart during this season of saying a hard yes to God.
"Constrained by the Spirit"We go because He says go. In a world where a message of "obey and God will bless you- He wants you to be happy" seems to be pulsing through American Christian culture, He has never promised that. He simply promises to be with us. He promises we will never be alone. In fact, He tells us life will be hard, we will suffer, we will grieve. But He is the treasure we will never, never lose. We are saying yes again to foster care because we have no choice - I honestly don't want to do this, but feel constrained by the Spirit.
"If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus."Our season of fostering and adopting isn't over. I honestly cannot imagine who He will bring us, how He will enable us to handle all of the things He has given us. In fact, I know that we can't handle it - it is literally too much for me. I am not enough. But He hasn't asked us to plot it all out and have a neat and tidy plan and all of our ducks in a row - He's simply called us to follow Him in obedience, and He has promised that He is enough.
As Russell Moore so eloquently unpacks in Adopted for Life, adoption is ultimately a spiritual issue. We adopt because we are followers of an adopting God. We are adopted ourselves - He delights in picturing what He has done for us in the restoration of the lives of children. Adoption isn't charity - it's war. It isn't easy, it isn't pretty - and we haven't been promised a "happily ever after" on this side of eternity.
So that's where we are with fostering. Our hearts are grieving - but we will trust that He will comfort us. We are fearful of more loss and heartache - but we know that we can rest in His sovereign plan. This journey doesn't feel fair - but if it was about fairness, we wouldn't stand a chance. It's all grace - grace for our grief, grace for our fear, grace that is enough for me.
His grace really is enough.