August 20, 2012

A "Real" Family

“We don’t really consider him to be a part of your family.”  When my daughter heard those words recently, referring to the foster child who has lived with us for 2 ½ years, she wept bitterly.  And why wouldn’t she?  She, herself, had once been a part of the foster care system before she had been, by God’s grace and providence, adopted into our family.1  What message was this respected adult now communicating to her?  “The only reason we consider you a part of a family now is because a judge signed a document and declared you to be.  Before that day, it didn’t really count.  You didn’t really belong.”

My heart aches and I can’t help but cringe when I hear people, even upright, God-fearing people make comments like that.  You know that feeling when someone makes an unexpected remark, and you have the perfect response?  Three days later?  Here’s what I wish I would had the clarity to articulate at the time:  If we aren’t “really” his family, then who is?  The mother who rarely showed up all those months of his infancy that he spent in the hospital, and who hasn’t seen him at all in almost two years?  The grandmother who will only agree to fill that role if she is financially compensated to do so?  It’s not his fault that he was born into a family who were unable to care for him, only to then be stuck in a flawed system that continues to delay making a permanent decision about his future.  He didn’t ask to be raised in these circumstances, with the title of “foster child” perpetually hanging around his neck.  

And if all the things that mothers do for their child – getting up with him when he’s struggling to breathe in the middle of the night; snuggling with a well-loved book after a bubbly bath and a creamy massage; teaching him the proper way to hold a fork and insisting that he eat his peas before getting dessert; training him to pick up his toys at the end of play-time; hearing the little voice declare, “I love you, Mama!” as I’m preparing his favorite snack – if doing those things don’t qualify me to “really” be his mother, then what does?

Upon seeing my daughter’s tears, the flustered person continued in an attempt to soften the previous words:  “We haven’t been called to care for these children like your family has.  Your family’s gift is to care for foster children, just like our family is involved in the music ministry at our church.”  I understand that not everyone has been “called” to foster or adopt children.  I totally get that.  People have different gifts, talents, callings and passions.  If someone asked me to stand up in front of our church and sing a solo, the terror in the pit of my stomach and the violent trembling of my knees would most likely precede the inevitable faint.  But there’s a significant difference between using your musical talent (or any other skill, for that matter) and rescuing a child who desperately needs a family.  In the case of our current foster child, opening our heart and home to him literally meant the difference between his life and death!2

In the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the Lord is pretty clear about his opinion on the subject:  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  

The body of Christ all serving and functioning together, with every member doing his or her part, is a thing of beauty.  Oh, how I love to hear someone else’s beautiful music as I worship the Lord; it often moves me to tears and reaffirms my devotion to my beloved Savior!  But like the story that Jesus told about the rich man who gave much out of his abundance and the poor widow who gave the only two coins she had, there is a difference between contributing and sacrifice.3  I want to live like that widow!  I don’t want to just show up for “choir practice” once a week, so to speak.  I want my life to be characterized by total surrender of everything I have.  And it’s not even giving what I have.  Like a fresh absorbent sponge, I want to soak up the love that God has so generously lavished upon me, and squeeze it out in abundance onto the lives He has temporarily placed in my care.

I am so thankful that the Lord has called me and my family to the ministry of caring for “the least of these!”4  He has placed within my heart a deep, relentless love for fatherless children, and that spark has only been kindled and fanned into bigger and more powerful flames throughout the years.  With each child I have had the honor of caring for, my capacity to love has continued to expand.  Demonstrating love and compassion is like exercising a muscle . . . it doesn’t diminish with use.  On the contrary, the more it’s exerted and stretched, the larger and stronger it becomes.  

When I hear casual comments that this precious, beautiful, uniquely-made child who dwells in my heart is not “really” a part of my family, it reminds me that not everyone shares my perspective, my passion.  It compels me to love him well, to the best of my ability.  To fill a void in his life that others may not be able or willing to fill.  And I am humbled and honored all over again to think that God would choose simple ol’ me for this role.

So who is “really” this child’s family? It’s the Papa he runs to, squealing in delight, when the Papa returns from work at the end of the day, knowing he’ll be tossed in the air and tickled until he practically bursts.  It’s the Mama whose arms he seeks when he first wakes up from his nap, the one who knows that “You Never Let Go” is his favorite song.  It’s the sisters who teach him cool dance moves and pose him for elaborate “photo shoots.”  It’s the big brother who invites him climb onto his lap while he’s playing computer games, and who carries him proudly on his shoulders, introducing him to his teenage friends.   It’s the family who shares their life with him day in and day out for years and years, even without the official document that allows him to share their last name.  

We may not be his legal family.  We have no idea if we will ever be privileged to be his permanent family.  But if you were to ask him who his “real” family is, there would be no hesitation or doubt.  He knows.  He knows he is loved and safe.  He knows which people are crazy about him.  And at least for now, for today, that’s what really matters.

1.            Read about her foster care and adoption journey at
2.     Read about his amazing story at
2.            Mark 12:41-44
3.            Matthew 25:40


  1. Amen. Thank you for always sharing your heart and your wisdom. We are only nine months into this foster care journey and can use all the help we can get! :)

  2. It's so easy to get discouraged, especially by other people's opinions. About every other week I am tempted to give up! I write these things as an encouragement for myself; I'm so thankful if the Lord can use it to encourage someone else too!! Let's continue well!