foster parents, the ones who mend little hearts

I started this morning by reading a post about an incredible woman named Sky.  This tiny little lady changes the lives of children every day, by simply being there.   Beautiful, young and a mother bear, protecting these wee cubs who have no protector.   And married to a man who cherishes her, who wrote the post to celebrate her!

Most days at work I learn about little ones who need to be out of their horror filled homes.   Little ones who are molested, beaten, starved, neglected, abandoned, burned with cigarettes …. precious children who get the brunt of an adult’s rage every day.   Until the law or children’s services gets involved, there is no mother bear to protect these children.

We need more Sky’s.   We need families like the Steigerwalt’s and the Epp’s, dear friends I know from the present and the past, who opened their hearts and homes to children no one wanted, only to have some of those children ripped away and given back to the mothers who abandoned them.     Fostering is painful.

These little ones bring their suitcases full of trauma along with them.   They have rarely known the quiet of sanctuary, the comfort of being held and rocked, of being protected.   They have to re-learn to trust because their trust has been shattered.

If you know a foster parent, call them today and affirm them.    If you are able to consider being a foster parent, like my sweet relative, Hannah, go for it with everything in you.

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sky

Sky – A Woman of Valor
By Jonathan C.

It started with an End. An end to all of the fun, that is.

We had been having a grand time at the restaurant, but I said it was time to go, and one of my children disagreed with that assessment. It could have been PTSD; it could have been Reactive Attachment Disorder; it could have been any number of traumas associated with being bounced through six homes in four years; and it definitely could have been your basic four-year-old temper tantrum….but the effect was the same.

My apologies to the kind Chick-fil-A cow; I hope your tail feels better in the morning.

My apologies to the other patrons; I hope you had plenty to talk about after we left.

We did make it to the car. Car seat, infant and diaper bag in one hand, writhing, shoeless four-year-old in the other, four and five year old trailing behind and ultimately fighting over which seat in the van was most awesome that night. That’s when a kind woman flagged me down to say, “You are a saint!”

I’m not ungrateful. Far from it. It was a true kindness from a stranger, and sometimes those are the best kind. But what came into my mind at that moment was my wife, who had been taking advantage of the brief child-free hour to stop at a store and a consignment sale to purchase things for the children in our care.

She doesn’t get anonymous cheers from strangers. She doesn’t have people offer to keep an eye on the baby while she chases down the errant child. I’m not exactly sure what she would have to do to elicit a “good job” in the grocery store. It would probably involve CPR and/or a tracheotomy, although even then someone would undoubtedly think, “That woman spends way too much time watching Grey’s Anatomy.”

She hears things like this:

“You must have your hands full!” (Falls short of encouraging. More of a statement-of-fact.)

“Are you a nanny?” (An acknowledgement of the different races represented in our family, designed to elicit a longer conversation about why our family looks like it does, but only as long as it takes to check out.)

“Are you a day care?” (Do day care workers regularly peel off four of their charges and go to the store?)

Far from a random selection, these were comments given to my wife earlier that same day. The kids were not acting up, but calmly following her as she completed the day’s errands, and yet she received scant more than innocuous observations about the number and/or color of our children.

For three years, my wife has been a stay-at-home mom to over 20 foster children under the age of six, one adoptive son, two soon-to-be daughters, and a soon-to-be son. She has been raged against, spat upon, hit, kicked, scratched, insulted, and ignored. She is isolated by circumstances, by confidentiality agreements, and by her fierce protection of her children’s dignity.

Faced with crippling tragedy, she speaks resurrection to our children. With a passion that rivals the best of gospel preachers, this 4-foot-8 suburban white woman will decry complacency, hopelessness and fear, guiding our children into a vision of healing, restoration and wholeness. She has wept tears of sorrow, pain, anger, frustration, loss, despair and exhaustion. She has raged against injustice, inefficiency, bureaucracy, and cruelty.

She has celebrated victories and rejoiced over seemingly insignificant progress, like a cloud the size of a hand that will surely bring relief to the drought.

And yet, she waits. Most of our children have gone to parents or relatives, never to be heard from again. Those that remain have much to grieve, and the object of their grief and anger is as distant as the chance of reconciliation.

As foster parents, the comment we hear most often is, “I couldn’t do what you guys do. I wouldn’t want to give the children up. It would hurt too much.” And while this statement neglects the unique and peculiar joy that our vocation brings, and leaves unacknowledged the inescapable fact that the work must be done anyway. The truth of the sentiment is much deeper than people realize. It hurts to say goodbye over and over again. It hurts to leave a job feeling unfinished. It hurts to live daily with the aftermath of neglect, abuse and trauma in children. And yes, it even hurts to be punched in the face by a three-year-old.

It hurts when she loves well. And that is what makes her a woman of valor. If you should see a short, dark-haired suburban white woman navigating her children of many colors through a public place, do me a favor.

Celebrate her.

***

Jonathan and Sky live in the Southeast corner of the United States. They have been foster parents for three years, caring for over 20 children. They have one adopted son and are in the process of adopting three more children. There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted, which leaves 300,000 children that just need a safe place to lay their heads and hopefully find some healing. If you are interested in foster care, contact your local DFCS office or any number of private agencies.

Isn’t it encouraging to see a man celebrate his wife like this? Thanks to Jonathan for capturing the true spirit of Proverbs 31.

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