From loss to hope

Loss.

This one word sums up so much about foster care. First there is the children’s loss: they come to us to so full of it. They’ve lost just about everything by the time they move in – family, home, familiarity, possessions, belonging, security, trust… the list goes on and on. And then there is our loss: the empty hole in our hearts every time we let go of a little one we have loved as our own.

Loss hurts.

20180925_114603Last week we said goodbye to our fifth little love. Letting go just doesn’t get easier. But loss was not a part of God’s orignal plan. In the garden of Eden, there was no place for loss – all was perfect and so, so good. Yet now we live in a world marred by sin, and loss is rife.

But God was not content with loss. Instead, He decided to suffer the biggest loss of all, so that He could win us back and put an end to all loss and pain for good. Jesus Christ, the human personification of God himself, lost his connection to the God-head when he chose to die in our place. Of all the losses this world has seen, none can compare to this.

And now loss is not the end of the story. Jesus rose back to life, conquering death for us all. Now we can exchange loss for gain. We can exchange hurt for hope. We can exchange emptiness for fulfilment. Despite this broken world, God can work all things for good. He can turn the bad on its head.

This doesn’t mean that loss itself is good. No – the loss inflicted on the kids I love is painfully wrong. Desperately unfair. In no way good. But because God IS good, He can turn it around.

When we began this life of foster care we chose to embrace loss. We are priviledged to be co-workers with God, a part of turning bad into good in the lives of the children entrusted to us. And as we feel the pain of our own losses, God steps in and walks alongside us. He turns our tears to joy, gives us peace that passes understanding. As we follow His will, the richness of His presence in our lives makes the sorrow seem small.

Truly, we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

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Becoming

A friend of mine put up a quote on Facebook recently, which really spoke to my heart:

God doesn’t give you the people you want. Instead, he gives you the people you need – to teach you, to hurt you, to love you, and to make you exactly the way you’re meant to be.

As a foster carer people often tell me that I’m doing an amazing job. They watch me hold, love and let go of children that I long to keep. And in one sense, they are right. I am doing an amazing job; it’s an amazing privilege to step into a child’s life and form part of their story. But I am not amazing.

We have just come to the end of a three month placement. E, age 6, and B, age 2, came to us last November, a week after our first little love went home. They had had a life full of trauma. E told us things so nonchalantly. Things that a 6 year old should never even know about, let alone experience. B was terrified of simple sounds, and she spent the first night screaming for hours, not knowing why she had suddenly been taken from everything she knew and put with strangers.

The first week was a big adjustment, but we took it in our stride. As time went on the girls began to relax. They began to feel safe. They began to open up, and this is where it got really hard. After three weeks E began to show us just how much damage the trauma had done to her. She became everything we had been told to expect during our foster training, but experiencing it in real life is something different. We began to have daily meltdowns over nothing, where E would scream, kick, hit, throw, pinch, spit, bite, and generally try to destroy everything. These meltdowns could last up to two hours, and could happen several times a day, especially during weekends and holidays. She just couldn’t process all the awful, awful things that she had experienced, and she was letting us know the only way she knew how.

‘Theraputic parenting’ is the term we use to describe our way of dealing with foster children. PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy: these are the tools we use, built on a foundation of love, firm boundaries and total acceptance. There were many times when I was being scratched and hit that I was able to respond with deep empathy. When I could look in E’s eyes and tell her that I knew she was hurting so badly, and that’s why she felt like she needed to hurt me too, and that was okay. There were times I could respond to spiteful words with humour and diffuse the situation. There were times when, yes, I was doing an amazing job.

But that’s only half of the story. There were many times when I did not want to deal with another meltdown, and wished the school day was longer. Many times when E’s deliberate attempts to hurt and provoke me, succeeded. Many times when patience was not a virtue I possessed. Many time when despite knowing it was not her fault, I felt like it was. There were times when, no, I was definitely not amazing.

Guilt. I am not the perfect foster parent that I want to be. Confusion. I truly believe God called me to this job, and that He has equipped me for it – so why can’t I do it better?

This morning I listened to a podcast by a very dear friend of mine, who was talking about why he believes ‘just be who you are’ is a message which means well, but does people a disservice. It stunts our growth and stalls us in our current place of imperfection rather than helping us move into who we are meant to be. No one is perfect. And although we are all created unique and wonderful in our own ways, we are not yet the best version of ourselves. God put people and situations in our path not only so we can help them, but so we can grow.

The difference between a master and an amateur, they say, is that a master has made many more mistakes. As we wait for the next broken lives to come live with us, my prayer is that I will have learnt from my mistakes. That next time I will be more of who God has called me out to be. That I will love better, and be a truer reflection of God’s grace and mercy.

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Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.

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