April 12, 2014

Making a Difference

Do you remember when you were young, that exciting season of life when you were just starting out, and the whole world was full of endless possibilities?  It was like holding a brand new travel book in your hands and being given carte blanche.  You could go anywhere you wanted to go.  Do anything.  Become anything.  You could devote your life to academia, a career, a family, full-time ministry . . . or all of the above.  And no matter which direction you decided to go, your goal was the same as almost everyone else on the planet: to leave your mark.  To impact people’s lives.  To make a difference.

So of all the options in the world, all of the good, noble roads you could have chosen, you decide to become a foster parent.  You’ve heard the stories of the underprivileged children in your very own town, children who are being abused and neglected and abandoned.  Children who need care and encouragement.  And so you think, Why not me?  You know that you have a lot of love to give, and you want to offer a child the hope of safety and the promise of protection.  Your foster care journey begins.

You do your research, find an agency whose motto is “to make a difference in the life of the child” (a quick Google search shows 42 million results!), attend weeks and weeks of training classes, fill out applications, schedule physicals for everyone in your family, get a criminal background check, request references, invite a social worker to inspect your home, and then, finally, you are licensed and ready.

A foster child is placed in your home, and your excitement is mixed with slight apprehension.  What are you getting yourself into?  You take a breath and reassure yourself:  you are a bright, competent, self-confident adult; how hard can it be?  His dirty face and angry eyes invades your home and your world, and he screams.  And he screams and screams and screams.  And he won’t stay in bed.  And he vomits orange juice onto your cream-colored carpet.  And he rips your necklace right off of you.  The tiniest of suspicions begins, and you wonder if maybe you made a mistake.  Will you really be able to make a difference in this child’s life?

Un-be-lievable.  They call you about caring for another child, and in spite of your recent doubts and questioning of your abilities, you find yourself saying yes.  And then again, and then again, and yet again.  There are more screamers, more little terrors who destroy your belongings.  And somehow, almost miraculously, you love them anyway.  You realize that somewhere along the way you have learned to be patient and full of grace.  Your expectations have become more realistic.  You understand that loving imperfect children is infinitely more important than having a perfect home.

You discover that your perspective and your prayers have begun to change.  No longer are you relying on your superb parenting skills, your fierce determination, or even your Biblically-sound wisdom.  Yes, you still pray every day, every moment, for the Lord’s direction and guidance.  But you understand that it’s not about you at all.  That it is the Lord Himself who is the Counselor, the Redeemer, the One who is able to reach into their hearts and heal their brokenness. That He is the Great I AM.  The One who makes the impossible possible.

Over time, little by little, the children who enter your life become more medically fragile and physically demanding.  The needs are increasingly complex and difficult.  Your sleep, the sleep you treasure and once thought was so essential, becomes more sporadic and infrequent.  You spend hours and hours each month in hospital waiting rooms and doctor’s offices.  Many nights you are responding to the alarms on this medical equipment, trying to feed that failure-to-thrive baby just one more drop, contacting the on-call doctor with questions about medication dosages.  Why do you do it?  Because you know that the sacrifices you are making are having a direct impact on these children’s lives.  Their progress, their health is tangible proof that what you are doing is truly making a difference.

But you also realize something else.  You have much more perseverance and stamina than you ever thought possible.  If you had never walked this road of faith, stepping into terrifying areas that far exceed your abilities, how would you have known what you were capable of?  You are just so, so thankful that the Lord chose you for this role.  That He has allowed you to have the great privilege of be a part of these dear children’s stories!

There are so many children.  So many tragic stories, destroyed families, devastated lives.  Each one of them impacts your life in a different way; however, a few precious ones leave their mark in ways you never could have imagined.  They are the cherished ones, the treasures who plumb the depths of your love.  They tiptoe in at first, and then somehow they manage to dive right into the center of your heart, and no matter how far they plummet, they never do reach the bottom.  If you had never met them, how would you have known that it was possible to love so deeply, so passionately and completely?

When you embarked on the foster care journey, you knew it would be an adventure.  You expected to face challenges.  You predicted that some days, some seasons would be difficult.  But you pursued that road because you knew it had immense value.  You hoped and prayed that your journey would make a difference.  And indeed it has!  Children have been loved and given hope.  Little ones have thrived and have actually survived because of your care.  But mostly, unexpectedly, you have changed and grown.  You have discovered strengths, a deeper faith, and a more powerful love than you ever knew existed.  All along, while you were loving and working and serving and sacrificing and praying, the journey was making a difference.  In you.

“We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint.”  Romans 5:3-5

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