I had a lot of expectations about what foster parenting would be like, but one thing I did not expect was how the Lord would use my life as a bridge.
I’ve been blown away by how fostering is a bridge for my children to reach the wonderful world of Christian community I so often take for granted; a world of smiling faces, kind Sunday School teachers, loving friends, and people who know your name. My wife and I have yet to foster a child who ever had the chance to enter the doors of a church before entering our home, and each one of them (at least the ones old enough to express it) has loved church.
Many times my kids have asked me to count down the days until “church day”. They love their Sunday School teachers. My foster daughter will run down our giant church hallway squealing with delight when she sees one of the families who has cared for her. All the blessings so commonplace to people in healthy Christian community—having God-centered relationships, an encompassing care for one another, and excellent people who care for and teach our children about God—are worlds apart from where my foster children have come. God is using fostering as a bridge for my foster children to experience the blessing of God’s people.
More than just a way to reach the community of God, fostering is a bridge for foster children to begin to know God Himself. I’m amazed at how the childhood years are so spiritually influential. The things my foster children have believed about God and life coming into our home (mostly learned through TV shows and movies) have shocked and grieved me. But, slowly but surely, the actions of our daily lives—like playing corny Christian kids’ music in the car, having (chaotic) family devotions through the Jesus Storybook Bible, talking about how God made the pretty pink sunset and the pretty pink ponies (we currently have a foster daughter), memorizing the children’s catechism, asking God to help us not be scared at bedtime, and even having difficult discipline conversations about how God requires us to use “true words” —have slowly and surely been used to help my children begin to know the God of Scripture and the world He’s made. These regular rhythms of Christian family life, the kind of blessing almost every Christian child has, may very well be the one and only season in my foster children’s lives when they even hear the name of Jesus.
But even beyond my children’s lives, fostering is a bridge for me. It’s a bridge to a world that I don’t see often, as a white, privileged, middle-class pastor at a Mount Pleasant, SC, church—a deeply broken world of poverty, daunting circumstances, generational sin, self-deception, and rebellion against authority. I have yet to attend a foster court date and failed to be emotionally moved by the birth parent’s state of life. (Please don’t misunderstand me—I’m not the angry, holier-than-thou foster parent. My wife and I are the biological parents’ biggest cheerleaders. The statistics of how children almost always do better with bio parents come alive in my home every time we hear the tearful cry of “I miss my REAL mom!”.) Fostering has caused me to be a regular witness of someone trapped in sin and seemingly insurmountable circumstances, both having a lot of bad cards dealt to them, and reaping a lot of the evil they have themselves sown. Often it will cross my mind—this could have been my mom or dad. This could have been my world, my childhood. And suddenly it hits me that my parents, who seemed so normal to me growing up, are this immense common-grace blessing that God graciously bestowed upon me. I have a bridge to what life could have been for me if not for the grace and power of my Redeemer—and a bridge to compassion for those whose lives are now like that.
I can’t leave these situations without being reminded that these parents are like the people first drawn to Jesus when He came to Earth. Jesus came to break generational sin. Rebellious and self-deceived sinners were the ones Jesus came to save, and He has the power, with a word, to radically transform them and to give them the strength to persevere in their daunting circumstances. I have a bridge to the immense light of God’s power in the darkness.
Finally, fostering is a bridge for me to know more of God. Regular parenting will teach you a lot about how God deals with us, but I’ve found foster parenting to be a uniquely helpful parable for God’s love and dealings with us. Here’s an everyday example in our home: Sometimes children from backgrounds of neglect can have food issues, deep, heart-seeded, subconscious worries about whether their basic needs will be met. As a result of their previous pain, they’ll often pepper us with questions every five minutes about when they’ll eat next, demand food tyrannically, and generally view food in unhealthy ways. I think, “Okay, these things will be an issue for a little while, but once my child sees me continually provide for them, once they experience a month or so of me always meeting their needs, their behaviors will change.” Not. We’ll reach a point, after four or five months of this, where we’ll try to gently (admittedly, sometimes not so gently) say something like, “Sweetheart, have you ever been without food in our house? No, of course you haven’t. We are always going to feed you, you can trust us.” Yet the doubt and questioning and demanding continue—even as the food keeps coming.
Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like God’s patience with His doubting people in the wilderness of Exodus and Numbers—His provision, their doubt, His provision in spite of doubt, their doubt in spite of provision, occurring over and over again. It also sounds a lot like my life: I’ve had pain and trials that haunt me, even though God graciously provided and helped me in them. He’s been so good, yet the moment another one of those trials is on the horizon, the moment my faith is tested, when I have to wait, even for the tiniest length of time, to experience His deliverance or provision—here I am again, peppering God with questions, tyrannically demanding a blessing from Him, having an unhealthy (i.e. idolatrous) view of the things of life. And there He is again, saying, so gently and firmly, “My son, have you ever been without? Don’t you know I’ll care for you?” This little parable of my own heart and my God’s gracious patience and provision for me is on display every night at dinnertime.
A bridge. That’s been the most impactful way God has used fostering in my life. There’s a temptation to think that mercy toward the fatherless is a one-way bridge—we give ourselves to bless these children and help them connect to God through Christ and His people. But God has been so gracious to use fostering as a bridge for me to be richly blessed in knowing Him and loving Him more deeply.