Last Mother's Day, my family surprised me with a pecan tree. I LOVE pecan trees! I personally think they are the most beautiful of all the trees. We picked the perfect spot for it to thrive: this alone is worth celebrating because it indicates that I have FINALLY learned to plant things with their mature size in mind. Bless my heart. Half of the things I've added to our flowerbeds cling to the house like they have separation anxiety.
One day, the puppy I had equally dreamed of noticed that baby pecan tree, and within half a minute, he had chewed it down to a nub. Gone. Just like that. My poor pecan tree: totally vulnerable and hopeless to defend itself.
As I sat on my patio almost a year later, I notice that the pecan tree is coming out of its dormant season. The nub is starting to regrow. However, where it once was one tall, pre-trunk, now multiple awkward sticks are shooting up, figuring out what to do after puppy trauma.
"This is foster care," I heard in my spirit.
The Lord broke my heart. We have never been foster parents, but we love a lot of people who are, and through that, we have been able to love a lot of kiddos in the foster care system. I wonder if this is common? I don't think most people are intimately exposed to foster care, so I want to explain what we've learned from our vantage point as support systems.
The number of kids who need a loving home in their in-between is staggering. The calling is hard. It's opening your heart and your life to kids who have been traumatized. They often show up with a trash bag collection of the few items they call their's in the world. The more considerable baggage is hurt, disappointment, mistrust, and brokenness.
Becoming a foster parent is knowing you aren't in charge. The state is. It's realizing the kid you grow to love may go back to a horrible situation, or they may need someone to adopt them. They will spread their trauma reactions all over your Tuesday, then just when you feel like you're making progress and they are acting more and more like a healthy kid should, visitation starts. It's loving them like they are your own, all while constantly reminding yourself that they aren't. It's being flexible. It's being willing to shift and readjust.
As I looked at my pecan tree shooting up trauma growth, I thought of how it correlates to the kids we've loved in the system. I saw it as a picture of what it looks like to declare "kids are resilient." This logic dismisses the fact that all growth isn't good growth. Healthy maturity is achieved when someone lovingly and intentionally prunes the behaviors that shoot up out of trauma. Reactive, unnurtured growth will ultimately produce a fractured, weak tree. You won't have a healthy pecan tree with five trunks. Some of the growth that comes from trauma like reactive anger, withdrawal, self-harm, inaccurate identity, unhealthy attention-seeking require someone to love them enough to be a master gardener in their lives.
For many, this is foster care.
I am so thankful for the amazing foster parents who welcome child after child into their home with love and attention. I watch them intentionally start pruning off the unhealthy trauma growth that manifests. They spend sleepless nights praying for the kids in their care. They spend hours and days training and learning more effective ways to navigate waters that the adults who should have been trustworthy have churned into a turbulent storm. They guide their own children through the process of being the hands and feet of Jesus when it's disruptive and challenging.
Foster care may be one of the most complex yet rewarding callings. I long for the day when it's unnecessary, but in the in-between, these heroes of the faith will quietly prune the trees planted in their garden until they are transplanted, then they will prune the next one.
I believe in some way; we are all called to foster care. For me, currently, it is to be a support system to the front-line workers. Ask the Lord what your role is. Find out who is serving as foster parents around you and offer to help. Check on them and ask what they need. Offer to listen, offer to bring food, or be on call to buy clothes and toiletries when a middle of the night call lands a dirty, tattered, empty-handed tiny human at their door. Put a line in your budget, then start looking for a family to bless with it. Pray. Ask the Lord if YOU are called to open your home to a kid (or three…they often come in sibling groups). , We aren't all called to do everything, but as believers, we are commanded to look after the orphans, widows, the poor, the oppressed, the foreigner in their distress. What does that look like for you and your family? It's a beautiful way to disciple your children in biblical obedience.
Jesus, open our eyes to see how you have called us out of our comfort zone. Help us go into our mission field with wisdom, integrity, and grit. Thank you for letting us be your servants. Give us a tender heart for the things that break Yours. Please help us to be brave and obedient to move into action as a result. Lord, where are their wild shoots that have grown out of places of trauma in my own life? Can you be the Good Father who prunes unhealthy things out of me as I long to serve others?
This is Foster Care.
One foster mom shared this powerful picture. The outside of her van washed clean. She chose to leave a little of the paint that made its way inside, to remind herself to pray for the girl who's life had overwhelmed her with so many big feelings and absolutely no clue how to handle them.
Have you ever scrolled social media and noticed kiddos have some kind of emoji covering their faces? Foster kids are in the custody of the state, that means no consent to share their pictures publicly. Because of how foster kids are integrated into their lives, many foster families have adapted. You will often find that they share their family pictures with emoji covered faces.
Once a kid is adopted, there is often a huge reveal of the sweet faces they have longed to proudly display, much like a new born photo. I've put little hearts on the chests of kids who have settled into their forever homes.
One foster mom shared a picture of her tattered wall and how a man from her church came to the rescue to help with repairs. His family is currently in the process of adopting their second child. Spending time together fixing the damage, these families have been able to encourage each other.
Overwhelmingly, I heard from people in the trenches how trauma damage to the 'things' in their lives wound up connecting them with something of greater value. That honestly left me undone. It was humbling and enlightening to hear how trauma to their temporary things became less important in light of the trauma it represents in the humans they care for. It was a powerful truth: our earthly treasures should simply be a means to fulfill our eternal purpose.
This is Foster Care.