When someone says"foster parent" what comes to their mind? Big brother/Big sister, babysitter, childcare job, stupidity, or just plan crazy. Have you ever had someone just look at you and think why in the world would anyone choose to live in a world of chaos, little reward, people who don't want your help, children who are emotionally damaged, angry, and act out at times as a wounded animal. In so many ways it doesn't make sense in a world that is all about making life more comfortable, easy, and self focused. We hear over and over "you deserve it ", "it's me time", "your worth it", "look out for #1", and how easy it is to get caught up in those messages we are being feed everyday. Without thinking we begin to as foster parents feel sorry for ourselves. We wonder what we are doing, and quickly forget. Why are we apart of this world of caring for kids that are from hard places, and frankly we can't handle it most of the time. Before you get to that point which can easily sneak up on any of us in a moments time (as your child goes into another complete meltdown for the 10x today) let me encourage you in three simple ways, but for me they have been life giving. Wrap your emotions and heart around them. Anchor yourself in these encouragements as you weather the storm of loving your foster child and the life you have chosen to make a difference in......
1. We have been giving the opportunity to love a child and their bio family in a way that most of them will never experience apart from this time with you.
You maybe the person that begins to open a world of unconditional love, self worth, healing, perseverance, and a view that life can be a beautiful place to be apart of. To the world you might be just one person, but to our foster child we might be the only one in the world who was willing to love and sacrifice life for them. You are making a difference in a soulf for a lifetime. The hard part that comes with foster parenting vs parenting our own children is that sometimes those moments are cut short, or we don't have the gift of time to watch those seeds that we planted grow, flourish into beautiful flowers, and maybe even reproduce beauty. But take heart you are impacting a life that will forever remember your choose to give life. I am reminded of a story we were told in our support group of a man who spent 6 weeks in foster care. He came from an abusive family of 6 children. He had a dad that choose to run away from responsibilities, and a mom who didn't know how to handle her chaos so she drank, abused, and lived to make her kids as miserable as she was. They kids were taken from her and put in foster care. The children were divided up and scattered to accomadate the number of siblings. One of the boys age 6 was placed in a family who embraced their calling of loving their "son" for as long as they were giving the opportunity. In those weeks this young boy saw a family that truly was that! He experienced for the first time a place that was safe, loving, treated each other with respect and kindness, a shelter from the outside world, a refuge to come to and rest, and encourage to go forward in a positive way. He observed conversations that were life giving and made him feel at peace. The time was short lived and as quickly as he came he was taken back to his home where the chaos continued for the rest of his childhood. This man grew up watching his siblings choose to follow the life they had lived growing up. Many ended up serving time in jail, and had their own children taken away. This man was given a glimpse as a child of what life could look like and he choose to make that his choice for his future. He worked hard for his grade, went to community college, and took many years to complete his degrees and to become a doctor. When asked how he managed to choose life over living a world of darkness he attributed his life change to his "family" who for six short weeks gave him hope that life is so much more than what he had experienced. You too can be that "family" that makes a difference in a child's life for a lifetime.
2. Surround yourself with like minded people who believe and live in the world of impacting children's lives that goes beyond what is comfortable.
How quickly we can get discouraged or forge why we are in this world called "foster care". Surround yourself with people who can remind you, inspire you, guide you, pray with you, and who you can encourage too. As caring as some people think they are in trying to open our eyes to the choices we have made, most of the time it can be disheartening and discouraging. Mose people will never see what we are doing as of great importance or worthy of sacrifice. (Let's face it, it's not very glamorous) we need to be walking life with those who share our heart's calling and are choosing to make a difference in a child's life, one life at a time. Take time to go to a support group, a prayer group, an outing with another foster family, or maybe a date night together. Use this time to be hones with each other encourage each other, pray for each other, give each other advise, and possible find solutions to some issues that might be overwhelming us.
3. Find balance with an ebb and flow of life by taking time to take a deep breath, schedule respite, and surround yourself with a group of people who can wrap themselves around your family and support you in the ups and downs of foster parenting.
I know many of you are saying right now "that is good in theory but not reality". Well, I say with a passion make it a reality! Parenting children from hard places is probably the hardest job anyone can do. If you are going to make it through not just surviving, but thriving we must surround ourselves with people who not only live our life day to day, but people who can come alongside us as a support to help our "child" and our family succeed in a positive way. The African phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" is very true. We can not and should not shoulder this incredible job all on our own. God has called all of us to be apart of caring for the hurting, but we all have different ways we are to care. Surround yourself with a group of people who can bring life and strength to your family, and allow your "child" to see the gift that is lived out as people help people live life in a positive selfless way. If you don't know where to start ask your foster agency, local church, and there are even organizations that have been created to do this specific job... foster love for the foster family.
Fostering can be the most difficult but most amazing journey of your life. As you choose to put these three helps into your everyday life it can become a joy in your heart that will impact you too for a lifetime.