Saturday, October 06, 2012

My Calling to Foster Care

When people ask how we came to the decision to become foster parents, there is a story I tell. I've realized in the last month or so, though, that there is even more back story than I realized at first. It’s something that has been brewing and building in puzzle pieces so tiny and incremental that I did not recognize the picture being formed until it was far along.

I'll tell that tale another day. But for now, let me start just a couple years ago, at the point when fostering first came to my conscious mind.

Ministry puts a pastor with people in some of their lowest, scariest moments. I wouldn't know this personally, but being the ornery pastor's wife I am (the ornery wife, not the ornery pastor) I witness the burdens Matt carries for others when he walks through the door. A few years ago, Matt walked with a family during a particularly rough patch in which the county was considering removing an infant from the family's home. Matt was asked if we would consider taking the child for the weekend until everything could be sorted out.

Kate was a baby then as well, so we had all the necessary gear, and Matt figured I would be agreeable, but of course he called me at work to make sure. Without hesitation, I said yes.

In the end, they managed to find a solution that did not require taking the baby into custody, but that day's events planted a seed for me—one that grew virtually undetected for the next couple years.

I remember talking with friends in fairly vague terms about how Matt and I were considering foster care . . . sometime . . . in the future . . . when our own kids were a little bigger. But since moving back to Nashville last year, and even since having Claire, I started to have a growing feeling that the time was not far off. The time was now.

Matt and I kept talking about it, but reasons to wait were so obvious. Our own kids aren't even school-aged yet. We plan to have another biological child at some point. We both work full time and we're just plain busy! But the feeling persisted for me, and became deafeningly clear when Matt preached a sermon in May or June about the Israelites' exile and return. Before the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah bought land in Israel, even when it was clear that the Babylonians would soon invade and his purchase would be worthless. When the exile was over, Nehemiah took charge in the rebuilding of Jerusalem even though he wasn't trained for that and there were countless reasons to leave the task to someone else. We act in faith in spite of practical concerns, sometimes. And I felt we needed to at least take the first step of attending an info session about fostering.

I told Matt how his sermon spoke to me, and his response was a half-serious, "damn; I guess I have to practice what I preach!"

We prayed together and filled out the online interest form to at least dip our toes in. When I got a call from a social worker a week or so later, I learned that the "info session" is really just the first night of a seven-week course that leads to your home study and certification. You can choose not to come back if that first night convinces you fostering isn't right for you, but they hook you in quick! Part of my willingness to start the process now came from the perception (based on one person's blog from another state!) that it took over a year to get certified. Turns out, Tennessee only takes 4-5 months, so we could have foster kids by Christmas!

From mid-July to the end of August, our Tuesday nights were spent in PATH class (Parents as Tender Healers). We watched videos and heard from experienced foster parents, social workers, and medical professionals. We filled out a gazillion forms and made copies of all our personal information. They warned us up front that "if you don't like people all up in your business, you're in the wrong place." Matt said after going through the United Methodist Church's ordination process, this would be nothing. (Though we didn't have to get fingerprinted for ordination, so fostering might be a little more invasive!)

In all seriousness, Matt has been very supportive and on board with this leading I've felt, and I finally understand a little more why Matt has put up with the frustrating parts of ministry—there's a peace and determination that makes you plug through the long, sometimes mind-numbing seminars and homework, the sacrifice of your time and energy. I'm usually pretty resentful of anything that takes me away from my time at home and with my kids, but for this, I didn't complain. It just felt right. (And Granna and Opa are quite willing babysitters! Thank you guys so much!)

As Matt said, "I know a calling when I see one," and he is a willing and enthusiastic partner. It's a family endeavor, of course, but so is Matt's calling to ministry. While we each have our areas of service, it's all part of our family's values, emphasizing compassion for people in need, including radical hospitality.
When we told Kate that there are kids out there who can't stay with their own families for a while, and that we were going to let them stay with us, she responded as if that were a perfectly natural thing to do. She shows such compassion for "the men who sleep at church" (the homeless folks who come for Room In the Inn) and now for our "guest kids" and "guest babies" who will stay with us. There will be tough moments, I'm sure, when she finds she has to share my time and lap even more than with her sister, but I think fostering will be a valuable addition to our own kids' childhoods as well.

To be honest, I've never felt like this before, and I feel like that feeling is the joy of following a call and doing what I know I am supposed to be doing.

We had our home visit last night, when our social worker came to check out our house, make sure cleaning supplies and medicines were locked away, that we weren't planning to have the child sleep in the attic or anything crazy. (It's interesting the things they ask, knowing each concern comes out of some bad experience in the past!) I was a ball of nervous energy yesterday, so excited to get things rolling, to get our new crib set up in the guest room and have everything in ship-shape, but also nervous that Kate would say something crazy, as kids are wont to do! It went wonderfully, much simpler and less invasive than I expected. (No peeking in cabinets and closets or anything like that!) The next step is 60-90 minute individual interviews for both Matt and I. Wow.

The journey is just beginning, and I have moments of anxiety, but I feel so confident this endeavor will be a blessing not just to kids in need but to our family as well. 


EMU said...

Wow! I'm so excited to follow your journey. This is awesome stuff! :)

I teared up a bit when you wrote what PATH stands for...

God bless your family as you seek to be tender healers to others!

Katie Bug said...

I loved reading this! Very excited for your new adventure...and now I'm thinking and praying about whether or not it's time for me to start looking into fostering again.
I look forward to reading "the rest of the story" that you referenced in the beginning of the post.


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