LOVING KIDS FROM HARD PLACES STARTS IN A HARD PLACE
Hello? Is this Mrs. Kauffman? Can you take this baby?
My mind was reeling with joy and confusion at the same time. I sat in my cubicle with one hand over the phone, so my co-workers could not hear the child placement officer run through the police records listing the dreadful events which had led up to the decision to take a 3 pound baby away from his mother right after his birth.
YES! I will take the baby. I was overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming a baby in need into my home. My husband and I had raised seven children. We had been through extensive foster training. We were experienced and now qualified. It had been a long time since I’d cuddled an infant. All my mommy-senses were coming alive!
What did you say the birth-mother did? Oh my gosh! Who does that!!?? How awful!
And because there is no category in my “qualified” experience for mothers who are not responsible parents (like me), I subconsciously vilified her. To be honest, I stuffed her backstory into a drawer in my mind’s filing cabinet labeled “Things I Will Not Tolerate.”
Then I moved on, putting all my attention and energy into loving a little angel as my own.
Occasionally, a twinge of guilt would surface. On those occasions, I would retrieve that dark file and read over all the dreadful events surrounding this helpless child. Thus I would feel justified in putting that dark file back into its proper place, “People I Do Not Like.”
But then the little angel started to grow. And to my utter surprise, he had a striking resemblance to his mother! This “nuance” made me feel uncomfortable as it was a daily reminder that he was made to belong to someone else- and that someone else was not me.
I had fallen in love with this little needy foster baby. But his identity was tied to a birth mom that I had vilified. I imagined having to explain to an adult (foster) man why I didn’t like his mother. He would surely want to defend her. He will surely want to know her backstory. Even if there were addictions, poverty, prostitution, neglect- he’d still want to know how her life, and his, got derailed.
Truth be told, the backstory of a birth mom never starts off with a dark intent. Quite often it’s a story that starts off as any normal day. But then something goes wrong. Someone leaves, someone abuses, someone introduces drugs, someone loses their job, someone drinks too much. No one intends to be the villain in their own family’s story. Society faults her for things she could have controlled to avert the train wreck of her kids’ lives. But no one talks about the boulders that fell onto her track that she could not control.
I felt ashamed of that “qualified” foster mother called “me.” I started to re-think my inner filing system. I started searching the drawer for that dusty label maker called, “Empathy.”
I recalled the thing that I espoused but somehow forgot, the power of God. I recounted Bible stories and stories of parents I knew, and parents I have heard of, where a powerful God (with a surprising amount of empathy) brought someone derailed into a life of brokenness into a new life of wholeness. I recalled Jesus’ unwavering commitment to save people… all people, against all odds and despite the labels they were forced to live under.
Slowly at first, but then steadily, I found myself taking out that dark file and giving it another label, “People God Wants to Restore.”
This is the first hard place of a foster parent. You could go crazy here if not for a thing called faith. Commission 127 is a faith-based movement. There is a reason why people like me need the basis of faith. If not for faith, the movements foster parents are called to make in order to help hurt children could be hurting them in the long run. Faith is the light that reminds us that God intends on doing what He does best in the long run: redemption. We are drinkers of the same cup of God’s big powerful intent. So of course we can extend grace toward the thirstiest person in the hardest place of all, birth moms.
Consequently, we are relieved of the heavy burden of fixing people, as well as labeling them. We can do the work of “true religion,” which is, showing them the way to the Father and walking with them Home.
As you read the stories of foster parents in the coming weeks, try to identify the places you personally struggle to categorize people as good or bad. It’s a heavy burden for foster parents to convince you that we are not trying to adopt every child; that we know our houses look chaotic; and that we’ve heard, “I could never do that because I couldn’t give them back” at least a million times.
We also know that everyone is not called to foster. But we do believe that everyone is called to walk with someone on the journey Home. James 1:27 calls it “true religion.” And truly, he meant for us to do this together.
Let me be the first to tell you two helpful “secrets.”
1. All birth moms have this in common:
They are heartbroken over their child’s past.
2. All foster parents have this in common:
They feel alone in forging a path for one child’s future.
Redemption is God’s end game. And we, as faith-based Christians, are all required to “play.” But we know fostering is an uncomfortable game for most. All we ask is that as you read the stories of foster families, that you will not vilify the birth moms or put on foster families in a box labeled, “Things That Don’t Apply to Me.” That makes us feel alone on the journey.
We need you to walk with us. We need to know we can count on you to keep us in the “game” when we say, “I can’t do this anymore. I think I need to close my home.” We need to hear you say firmly and confidently, “Too late Momma. I am standing outside your door with a hot pan of lasagna and a box of Oreos. Better open up, Girl! I need to snuggle that foster baby, while we down all these calories.”
Foster families need what all families need, a trustworthy network of friends willing to re-label our unique attempts at doing James 1:27: “Things That Bring Glory to God.” And few things bring more glory to God than people walking with families who walk struggling children and their moms …Home.