Sunday, November 25, 2018

Empty Beds & Hair Ties ~ Grieving Loss in Foster Care

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Though my focus daily is to bring Central Arkansas the best money saving deals and advice there are many other layers to my life as Little Rock Mommy.  I am daughter of God, a wife, a mother, an employee and an advocate.  Around this time 3 years ago God called my husband and I to be foster parents.  I have spent my entire career in social work and have seen first hand the foster care system in Arkansas as a child welfare employee.  Through my jaded lens I asked God if we were really the "right" family to care for these traumatized children.  I "knew" what the children would be like.  I "knew" the brokenness of the system.  I "knew" my heart would be broken again and again.  Despite all that I knew we went down the path to become foster parents.



The phrase "foster parent" doesn't really emphasis the importance of this title.  From a bureaucratic level you are trained parents.  Like normal parents but with extra skills.  You go through courses.  You discuss trauma.  You fill out papers (sometimes multiple times) and ta-da you are a foster parent.  But God calls us to be so much more.  A foster parent is someone who steps up and stands up for God's children.  A foster parent comforts the inconsolable.  A foster parent loves.  A foster parent loves because God loved us first.  Fostering would not exist without love.  Loving broken people is hard.  Loving broken people is messy.  Loving broken people can break your heart.................but all of this is for God and His kingdom.

When we opened our home to "bonus kids" I thought I knew exactly how it would go.  I hoped I could help these kids learn how a "functional" home works.  I hoped they would gain life skills and maybe a love for Jesus.  Though we may have taught some of these things these last 3 years I think I have learned so much more.

To date we have had 5 "bonus kids" placed with us.  The last two were sisters.  We brought on the youngest sister when she turned two.  Nine months later her oldest sister was added to our home.  2 years and 1 month from meeting these babies they went on to their adoptive home.   I sat down and finished their scrapbooks (life books) the weekend before they moved out.  The photos from the prior 25 months showed the physical progression the girls made.  They are no longer pale and sickly in appearance.  Their hair shines, they are taller and look well-fed.  They smile with delight in their eyes.  They have grown out of the damaged children they used to be.  The photos remind me of the tears we shared over missed visits, hurt feelings, longing for birth homes, and begging for a settled life.  I "knew" the answers to all of their hurts but that's not what they needed.  They needed hugs, assurance that it will all be ok, and prayer.  Prayers together for God to give them restful sleep.  Prayers for parents that need God's love as much as we do.  Prayers for permanency.

Our bonus girls had their prayers for permanency answered.  A wonderful family came forward and answered God's call to love these girls (and their two brothers) as their own.  As we celebrated the transition my heart ached.  I worried.  I worried that the girls would be scared.  I worried that they would be sad.  I worried about changes in schools, routines, churches.  I worried that their new parents would not "know" how to love the girls like I have.   Even though I "knew" what loss feels like I did not realize how much I would mourn their leaving. 

During transition I was struck by the quiet when the girls were at visits.  Their lack of presence so noticeable.  Every "last time" for simple things like going to church, or school, or bedtime tugged at my heart.   I held little girls who wept to stay with my family.  Little girls who had never had stability before living with us.  Little girls that our entire family came to love as our own.  In those hard moments God reassured me and gave me the words to reassure the girls.  We would never forget them, we would always love them, they are always my daughters... we are not losing but gaining a larger family.

I woke up the morning of the girls' last day feeling so many conflicting emotions.  My prayer was simple.... God please put me at ease and let this day go smoothly.  As we went through final lunches, goodbye parties at school, desk clean out, final packing... God listened and answered my prayers.  Our final goodbye left me feeling full of hope.  I did not feel as though I had lost at all.  God reminded me again that I do not "know" anything but if I trust in Him it will be ok.

People have told us over our fostering journey they couldn't do it; they would get too attached.  Why do we invite the heart ache we know that will come?  As I stumble to find the words that truly describe how I feel and why my family fosters I always come back to love.  We are called to love one another and what better place to start but with children who need it the most.  Though the grief is real the gain is much more.  God chose my family to love these precious girls unconditionally.  To prepare them for life and their new adoptive home.  Loss is a key element of foster care.  God uses loss to teach us and to grow us to know and rely on Him more.  "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

 "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble..." (James 1:27).



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