On Hurt and the Pain of Risking our Hearts for Kids in the System

Two days ago we dropped off our two little guys, A2 and J1, at the educational care center we’ve been taking them to for the past 9 months and, with tears, we said good-bye, knowing we would likely never see them again.

Craig wrote about this here here in his post, The Comfort of Sovereignty. Shortly after leaving the care center, we received a text from Ben Nockles, of the 111 Project, and he asked us if we would share about this final chapter of our Oklahoma foster care story at the Foster Care Forum the next day. Here’s my portion of what we shared:

Three years ago I hosted a Compassion table at our then-fledgling church. Compassion is an organization I care deeply about and we’ve sponsored children through that program for over a decade. That Sunday, not one single person stopped by my table or picked up a packet. Not one. And, as a good Christian often does, I became self-righteously angry. I’m talking ANGRY. So angry that when our pastor, Doug, announced he was going to the 8308 conference later that week (what was then the Foster Care Forum) and that he hoped members of the church would also attend, I went out of spite, knowing that nobody else at our church would probably go.

That’s a great motive for going to something that is designed to soften your heart towards the cause of kids in crisis, right? Well, there it was. I went and God opened my heart up in a way I never expected. He opened up the hearts of my entire family in a way we never expected. And nine months later we welcomed a new child in our home. And over the course of the next 2.5 years we welcomed 13 more. Some we had for a very short time, some we had much longer. One set came to us twice. We loved and we lost and we loved again. And we lost again. That’s how this gig works. You can’t lose what you don’t love  and if you aren’t willing to love big and risk big then maybe you should think about a different cause to get behind. Foster care requires everything you have because it takes all of the good intentions of every program ever designed to help and it deposits them in your front door, at your kitchen table, in your spare bedroom and you have to do more than just know it’s what you should do…you actually have to do it.

That first year I wrote a lot about our experiences on my blog and I attended the Foster Care Forum again, this time to stand up here and give an account of our first few months. Last year Craig did the same.

Yesterday we said good-bye to the 2yo and 1yo we have cared for for the past 9 months and it was a fresh heartbreak for us because like so many of our plans that don’t go in the path we intended, it was never our desire to hand them over to another foster family and yet…that’s exactly what we had to do.

Shortly after we said our good-byes to two little boys who did not understand why we were crying, nor that we would not be back to pick them up, nor that we would likely never see them again, Ben asked us if we would share some final thoughts here today.

We said we would and the first thought that popped to mind came from Galatians 6:9 which says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

And that’s the thing: It’s so easy to get discouraged in this work, in spite of the worthiness of it, for it is work. And after 2.5 years of it combined with other real life heartbreaks like losing my mom last year to ALS and Craig losing his job earlier this year, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to become discouraged.

Discouragement comes when you give a child back to a broken system, or parents that are only JUST able to function well enough to keep their kids out of the system, or to new foster parents, you lose touch altogether. We have no idea what has become of the majority of the kids we’ve had and we likely never will.

And yet…we are told to press on, to not give up. The harvest will come, we just may not get to be the ones to see it happen.

If we’ve been asked once we’ve been asked a hundred times if we plan to step back into foster care when we move to Montana and for the longest time I’ve said I just don’t know. I gave away everything we have collected over the past 2.5 years (and when you need to be prepared for ages 0-5, boys and girls, all seasons it amounts to a LOT of stuff). The only things remaining right now are the small shirts and socks that are still working their way through the laundry cycle here and we still have our original baby crib left. Three months ago we were planning to hand that off too. Now it has reserved seating on our moving truck.

We don’t know what the next piece of the story looks like for us – could be respite care, could be fostering again, or could be in a support role, for we know how desperately those things are needed. Regardless of how it plays out there, one thing is for certain – we will not look back at our time here as a wasted one. We will hang our little green hand prints of all 14 kids on a new wall in a new state and we will pray – for those we’ve had as well as the thousands of other kids who are living that story. And we will pray for you, that you will step in and be a voice for the voiceless; a parent for the parentless, and that you would not grow weary in the work, for in due season we will all reap…if we do not give up.

Special thanks to Ben Nockels and the 111Project for this going-away gift you see up above (the HURT letters) acknowledging our foster care efforts in Oklahoma. Ben honed in on our family’s mantra that, “If it doesn’t hurt when we give kids back, we’re not doing it right,” and the large “R” represents our goal to redeem hurt in the lives of kids. This is easily the most “hipster” decorative piece we own, and we’re excited to hang it with the 14 framed handprints/footprints we’ll hang somewhere on a wall in Bozeman. Humbled.

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