Foster care. Rarely do two little words incite such a big emotional response. Feelings run the gamut from joy to anger to sadness and everything in between. It is one of the most difficult roads a family can choose to go down, but the joy that comes from raising children and seeing them thrive in a healthy environment is one of the most fulfilling things in the world.
Our foster care journey isn’t any more unique than anyone else’s; it was long and emotional, but we expected that going in. What we didn’t expect (and probably should have) was the way the Lord used foster care to allow my husband and I to bring the love of Jesus to a set of very broken and lost parents.
Visitations With Birth Parents Can Be Difficult
One of the questions I get asked so frequently is, “How did you handle meeting and conversing with your daughter’s biological parents? I don’t think I could handle being in a room with parents who have harmed their child.” The answer, for me, is so multi-faceted. We knew when we became foster parents that dealing with birth parents would be a huge aspect of it. Most children start out having visitation with family. This doesn’t always happen, as with cases of abandonment or where parental rights have already been terminated. But for most cases, you will have parental visitation.
We said from the beginning that we were going to treat birth parents with respect, without approving of their behaviors and actions. We would use any interactions we had with them to be a support to their recovery, to be kind to them, and to show them that there was a God who loved them. Knowing that 1 Timothy 1:15 says, “Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst,” we knew we were no better than birth parents. It is only because of God’s grace in our lives that we are not where they are.
This was put into action once we took in our daughter. Within a week we had visitation with her birth dad. I won’t lie; it was one of the most awkward encounters of my life. Here I am, walking in and leaving with a child that he had just helped bring into the world three short weeks ago. That first visit was rough. He was very protective of her, telling us how to care for her and that he was going to get her back “very soon.” He didn’t think we would be able to care for his baby girl like he could. We swallowed our pride and supported him, made sure he knew we were on his side, and told him we would be praying that he would have the strength to finish his recovery program.
The next visit included her birth mom, as well. At first, she wanted nothing to do with me and told me she knew how to take care of her own baby. Again, I said nothing in response and instead asked how recovery was going and reassured her we had no plans to take her baby from her. This eased her a little and she began sharing details of her life, which had been anything but safe and secure. Both of our daughter’s birth parents have experienced abuse and neglect from their parents, both had no guidance or support growing up, and both came from a long line of addicts. Their story completely broke my heart. The cards had been stacked against them from the start.
Sharing The Gospel With Our Daughter’s Birth Parents
Visits continued for a few months, and during that time we were really able to get to know them and gain their trust and respect. My husband was able to share the Gospel with her birth dad at one visit, and her birth mom and I prayed together during multiple visits. Although we already knew we wanted to adopt our daughter, I was able to tell them, without lying, that we supported them and hoped they would be able to regain custody. I also want to emphasize that not once did we condone their actions that had harmed our child, but rather spoke about the negative consequences of their behavior in love. We expressed our disapproval of their lifestyle, but we didn’t shame them for it.
Her birth mom told me during one visit that the foster parents they had dealt with previously (with their son, while he was in foster care) were extremely rude and disrespectful to them. They wouldn’t even look them in the eye or speak directly with them. With tears in her eyes she said, “I already felt bad enough, and they made me feel like I was even worse than worthless.” She expressed how thankful she was for the way my husband and I had treated both her and the birth dad, and that she knew we must believe what we talked about since we acted so different.
I don’t tell you this to toot our own horn, or because we are such great examples of how to deal with birth parents. Not at all. Visitation was one of the hardest things to do every week. I tell you this to stress the importance of being Jesus to broken people. If Jesus treated me the way I felt like treating her birth parents on most days, then I would be in for a world of hurt. I’m not better than her because I’m a good person, because I’m not an addict, or because I’m not a criminal. Far from it. I’m not better than her at all; in fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that God himself had to come to this Earth and die for my ugly, sinful, rebellious heart, and if I hadn’t chosen to believe this truth years ago, I would be in the same place as her.
The last interaction we had was right before our daughter’s adoption. Her birth mom was incarcerated, and I went to the jail to visit her. She was in disbelief when she saw me; she said I was the only visitor she had had in weeks. I caught her up on what our daughter was doing and showed her pictures. She said how grateful she was that we had her daughter, and thanked me multiple times for taking care of her. It was a sweet visit. The last thing she said to me, with tears pouring down her face, was “Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for praying. I’m sorry I failed her. Please tell her how much I love her and that I think about her all the time.”
During that season of dealing with birth parents, I didn’t do anything special. I was just kind to someone. But the small act of being kind and sharing Jesus made them feel loved and less alone. And isn’t that the whole point of Christianity? Not rules and regulations, but letting people who are broken and hurting know that the God of the universe loves them and cares for them.
This is our call as foster parents. Going into a dark place of abuse, neglect, drugs, prostitution, and so much more, and filling it with the light and love of the Lord.
Pray for kids in foster care. Pray for the foster parents bringing them in. Pray for birth parents. The Lord hears us. This is at the heart of answering the cry of the orphan; bringing them to the feet of Jesus and letting Him do more for them than we could have ever dreamed.