My friend Doug Sauder, President of CAFO member 4KIDS of South Florida, recently shared with me a profound letter. It was written by a woman who served families and children through 4KIDS for 5+ years. She read it to the 4KIDS teams during their weekly devotions as she prepared to depart for a new role. It expresses well the way joy and ache so tightly interweave in the lives of those who open themselves to loving foster youth and others among the “fatherless.”
Dear Foster Parents,
I cannot measure the impact these last five and a half years have had on my life. The greatest gift I’ve had the privilege of receiving every day at work is watching the gospel unfold before my very eyes. I’ve been a witness to God weaving the thread of redemption through the very fabric of your homes, family and children. Now, I am leaving with a tapestry of memories that display a beautiful picture of God’s redemption.
I want to thank you for putting hands and feet to the gospel. One verse that sticks out to me most when I reflect on what you’ve taught me is II Cor. 5:21 “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse reminds that Christ was our substitute. Over and over again I see how you manifest this verse as you trade places with the kids in our care.
The journey begins when a child is first brought into care and they come with a CRR which doesn’t have much, but a few papers and a picture. The picture is taken at Safeplace, usually within 24 hours of removal. Over the years, I have come to recognize the pictures. They are either characterized by sheer trauma and tears where you can almost hear them crying through the paper. Or, the blank stare of a child who is looking right through you. Either side of the spectrum, it is the point of crises where their world will never be the same.
You often tell me how you recognize over time that those tears turn into laughter and the blank stares are eventually transformed into eyes that smile. About a year into the journey when I come for my routine visit I open the CRR and we talk about how those pictures don’t even seem like the same children. The story of redemption has already taken place and God has taken something so traumatic as being separated from their birth family and gives them a second set of parents and siblings who keep them safe, love them and pray for them. Regardless of the final case plan goal God has used the situation for good and he has used you as his instrument of redemption.
But often times, where there is trauma for the child on the front end there awaits the inevitable trauma for you on the back end. We know is our heads the case plan goal is reunification but our hearts never seem to catch up in time. You get to that place where it is difficult to remember what your family was like before that child came to live with you. Then that dreadful day arrives when you give the child back. There are different reactions from the foster child based on the circumstances they are going into, but the reaction is almost always the same for the foster parents. There’s grief, crying, pleading with the Lord and essentially trauma as your heart is broken. There’s the stunned withdrawal from life for a little bit to come to terms with a God who sometimes say no to your prayer requests. Your kids cope in different ways depending on their age and you have the opportunity to teach them the hard lesson of grief and loss at a young age.
As I reflect on that moment that I have journeyed alongside with so many of you, I’ve noticed this lesson. The expressions pictured on those little faces when they first came into your home are now mirrored on the face of you, foster mom and dad. The trauma of a family initially broken by the system is now the burden of your family to cope as you part with a member of your family. A child that was once abandoned now abandons you to re-join their family. A child who was once abused is now safe as you field the false accusations of abuse and maltreatment. You have switched placed with your foster child just as Christ switched places with you.
Whatever sin or trauma occurred that brought them into care has now been absorbed by you, so they can have a fresh start, a new beginning with a family that will hopefully take a second chance. Like the scripture says, Christ takes our place so that we might become the righteousness of God. Foster parents trade places with their foster child for the opportunity to point them to their Savior and restore a family.
In the final moments as you look at the Safeplace photo you may see your own reflection. As the child lost their grip on the only family they knew you cling to the final memories of laughter and love as your source of comfort. However, the only sufficient comfort is remembering what led you to foster care in the first place. That Christ took your place. He left his heavenly home to live on this earth for a short while, but his intention was never to stay. The work was not finished until he parted through death and resurrection. The goal was reunification with his Father the whole time; the only difference is we get to join Him one day. In the meantime, we are reminded that this too is our temporary home.