We had just left a meeting full of caseworkers and attorneys and people making decisions on behalf of a child they had never met. I wanted to tell them how this tiny baby never cried—not a stir when she was hungry, not a whimper when she was tired, not a peep when she just wanted to be held. I wanted to tell them how I had been praying for God to break the cycle of sin, poverty, and dysfunction in her family tree. But all I was allowed to report was her feeding and sleeping habits—things that seemed so benign compared to the redemption and restoration I craved for this little survivor.
As the meeting progressed it became clear we would not be a part of this little girl’s future. Even though we had only been her foster parents for a couple months, she had already won our hearts. I loved her as fiercely as I loved our three biological kids and my husband adored her as if he had read stories to her while she slept safely in my belly for nine months. Now we faced the reality that our love for her would only be for a season.
I left that meeting feeling defeated. So I did what any Type-A woman does: I flew into task mode. I began plowing through my list of errands. First stop: Office Depot. I walked in just as they opened and perused the aisles looking for a new planner.
The store was eerily quiet this early in the morning. I heard a few footsteps below and music overhead. Music. I quickly stopped in my tracks. The song playing was one we had sung to this baby girl dozens of times since she came into our family. It wasn’t a popular song, but one that hit the charts more than 40 years ago. As I stood there paralyzed, listening as a floodgate of tears opened up. Every emotion I had held back during the meeting poured out.
Then I heard God saying, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”
When people find out my husband and I are foster parents, the response we hear most is, “I think that’s great, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t love those kids and then give them back.”
I understand this mentality, I really do. Our culture fears giving away love if our return-on-investment is pain. We fear pouring our time, energy, finances and love into someone who will disappoint us, hurt us, or worse—leave us. We fear getting hurt. We fear risk.
The problem is not that foster children might leave us. The problem is that we think we have the right to keep them—the right to keep any of our children. The truth I had to accept is that ALL of my children belong to God. None of them belong to me. God has given me the great privilege of stewarding these children, so I better do a good job of it for as long as He allows, whether two years, twelve years, thirty years, or more.
When this little girl entered our home on an average Monday afternoon, we had no idea how long she would weave her life into the fabric of our family: one month, six months, one year, or forever. To a lot of people, doling out so much love for so much uncertainty seems risky. Why love a child who might leave? Yet, I think most parents (myself included) take for granted the fact that our biological children could leave us tomorrow. Cancer. Car accidents. Drowning. Children die horrific deaths everyday. However, out of our arrogance and need for control we tell ourselves that those things happen to other families—until they happen to ours. If we accept the fact that loving our bio kids is just as risky as loving foster kids, we might be able to open our hearts and our homes to one of the 400,000 foster children waiting for a foster family.
Jesus is the perfect example of someone who lived out risky love. He loved the unlovable and the outcast. He loved expecting nothing in return. He loved knowing people would not understand him. He loved knowing people would reject him—even hate him. He loved to the point of dying for us. He loved us to death. Jesus didn’t care about risk. He didn’t care about R.O.I. He simply cared about you. And me. And every other person God created.
If Jesus can love us with that much risk, can’t we love others this way? Can’t we cast aside our shell of self-protection, comfort, and agenda to love the person right in front of us? Maybe God is calling you to love a friend who has wounded you, a parent who has disappointed you, a child who has rebelled against you, a spouse who has betrayed you, or a foster child who needs you.
Risk and Reward
I am humbled and thankful to report that ours is a story with a happy ending. In April 2016 we joyfully adopted that tiny, quiet baby who turned into a mischievous, energetic toddler. Three months later her newborn baby brother joined our family and we are currently fostering him. Without trusting God and taking such a big risk, we would not be experiencing such grand rewards.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
- 1 John 3:16
ELIZABETH OATES is an author, blogger, and speaker whose family tree was plagued with generations of divorce, addiction, abuse, abandonment, and general brokenness. Yet, God has redeemed her past as she uses her gifts to bring hope and healing to women and families. Elizabeth earned her B.A. from Baylor University and an M.A. from Dallas Theological Seminary before writing two books: Dealing with Divorce: Finding Direction When Your Parents Split Up and If You Could See as Jesus Sees: Inspiration for Hope, Joy, and Purpose. Today Elizabeth lives in Waco, Texas with her husband, Brandon, and their five children, including three biological, one they adopted through foster care, and one they are currently fostering. Follow Elizabeth at www.elizabethoates.com.