Why Foster?

The first call came last Thursday: a local number I didn’t recognize, but which I thought might be the kennel I had called that morning. In less than forty-eight hours I had to relinquish my dog to someone else’s care, and I still hadn’t confirmed who exactly that “someone else” would be. But it wasn’t the kennel; it was the Department of Child Services. And instead of relinquishing, I was being asked to take in, not a dog, but a child—an eleven-year-old white male.

It had only been two days since my foster parent support worker called to tell me she’d received the news I was fully approved, and my home was officially open to placements. It was less than four months since I submitted an online request for more information on becoming a foster parent in Knox County. Despite six weeks of classes, a home study, and lots of research, I still didn’t feel ready. And the simple fact is I wasn’t ready. I still had three long work trips ahead of me before I’d be home for more than a few days at a time.

I live with my son—a beautiful boy who could, at this very moment, also be described as “an eleven-year-old white male.” The congruence remained etched in my mind long after I hung up the phone. The other details—the name of the DCS worker, the explanation I offered as I reluctantly declined—dwindled away, but that unexpected barb remained caught in my soul. Who was he? What trauma had he experienced, was he experiencing, that led him to DCS custody? I felt an unexpected, sincere sorrow in my quick refusal. I had wanted to say yes, but I knew that my yes had to wait a bit longer.

I hadn’t planned to start fostering in 2017. The concept had been tucked safely in the file marked “Things I’ll Do One Day” for so long—one of those ideas you dust off only late at night when you are in a particularly philosophical frame of mind, or when the calendar is about to transition into a new year and you find yourself pondering the course of your Life: Past, Present, and Future. As 2017 began, I was far too busy to fit in any late night philosophical wonderings, let alone make a conscious decision to tackle that particular “to do” this year.

Just last year, I had made an abrupt career change—diving headfirst into a world of international travel, cross-cultural awakenings, and countless video conferences. The change was made possible by two things: one, my son had emerged from his earlier years of high-intensity dependence, and two, his father was willing to adjust our strict custodial schedule. Along with international glamour, I was earning a much higher salary, gaining amazing connections, and experiencing a life I hadn’t known was possible.

Such a lifestyle is not amenable to becoming a foster parent.

“What made you decide to foster?” a good friend asked me not long ago. Umm… I was stumped.

I’ve always planned to foster, or adopt, or maybe both, I thought to myself. Well, perhaps “always” is an exaggeration, but the underlying idea that it had been a long-time conviction is true. There was no single factor or impetus I could recall. My possible answers felt cliché. I love children? I certainly believe God calls us to give out of the abundance He has given to us. One of my favorite verses is James 1:27; “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” We (my son and I) currently sponsor four children through charitable global organizations. Is fostering simply the natural next step? There’s the fact that I am single and approaching forty, so it’s doubtful there are any other biological children in my future. I also agree wholeheartedly with my pastor, who spoke passionately to our congregation last winter, lamenting the fact that the church hasn’t opened more of its own doors for foster kids.

I rolled the question around in my mind for days, and it slowly evolved into the same question that has been whispering on repeat in my spirit for the past nine months: “Why not?”

I have successfully raised a (pretty great, if you ask me) child for the first eleven years of his life as a single mom working full-time, and I started out in much tougher circumstances than I find myself now; so the single mom excuse doesn’t fly for me. During the last decade, God has gradually—and intentionally, no doubt—surrounded me with several godly women who themselves have experienced the roller coaster of fostering or adoption, plus an incredible church family, and friends who are like family. So the “I don’t have any family or a good support system” excuse also goes out the window. This past April, we moved into a small house with a yard (yay!) and a third bedroom—so “We just don’t have room” is no longer valid either.

Even my job, which seemed at first to be taking me in the very opposite direction of settling down at home to foster, turned out to be part of God’s preparation for fostering. Opening my eyes and heart to people of different cultures, cultivating a willingness to step out in faith despite not knowing where my feet would land, pruning relationships from my past in order to make room for something new—God was at work in all of these things over the past year.

And although I had no idea how I was supposed to travel the world and be a foster parent as well when I signed up for PATH classes in August, God had the future securely in hand.

I did not plan the changes at work that led to me writing these words, as I sit in the airport having just wrapped up my last week of meetings with my client of the past twenty-one months. I did not know in August that the worldwide travel was coming to an end—an end that I not only accepted but welcomed by December, as He unfolded yet another piece of His plan. And in God’s immense providence, although I will lose the extensive travel, I will retain the good salary and the flexible schedule.

This is the God who awes me; the God who has shown Himself to me again and again as faithful and good. A God who responds to each small act of obedience with constant providence, and who gives more than we need in order that we might share His generosity with others. He is constantly weaving together the threads that run through our lives for His future purposes. There are moments, like now, when it is obvious that He is the one in control. It makes me want to give Him more chances to show up.

“Why foster?” she asked me. Today, I have a new answer, “Because it’s finally time to say yes.”

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