play a part
"What many fail to see is that these parents who are guilty of unthinkable abuse and neglect are often times the very children we failed to protect a generation ago. If we're going to break these destructive cycles, it will take a selfless village armed with grace, compassion, and a willingness to get uncomfortable in the trenches."
The first thing I noticed when I laid eyes on her was the lipstick kiss on her chubby tear-stained cheeks. Nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotions that would come in realizing the loss and tragedy that preceded this precious new addition to our family. A roller coaster 19 months of fostering eventually led to making our sweet daughter and her birth mom permanent members of our family…
In 2013 God graciously interrupted our pursuit of the American dream during a trip with our three young sons to an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico. Our real mission began on the trip home as we felt the strong and unexpected pull into the world of foster care.
Two weeks after we became licensed, on April 28th 2014, we got the call about an 8 month old baby girl…she was dropped off at our door just two hours later.
Our experience as a foster family, our daughter’s birth mom’s experience as a child who aged out of the system, and story after story from other weary foster families opened our eyes to the desperate need for more community engagement in our child welfare system. In early 2016 we launched a grass-roots non-profit organization called Foster Village Austin with the mission of providing basic necessities, therapeutic tools, and community support to Austin area families who are fostering or working to reunify. We have seen a village of individuals, families, businesses, former foster parents, and church groups rally together to surround these vulnerable neighbors and show them that they are not alone.
Before entering the world of foster care, I had every one of the all-too-common fears and excuses. “I could never do that”, “I would get too attached”, “those kids are too hard”, “maybe when our own kids are grown”. Before I knew better, in my mind there were two possible outcomes with foster care:
- Get a sweet little child, fall in love, lose him/her forever
- Get a tough kid who terrorizes our family and tries to kill us in our sleep
Little did I know that we were not the rescuers heading into the trenches to save some kids, we were the ones being rescued from our mixed up ideas of what grace looks like.
Foster care has taught me that we are all one bad day away from being a family/ parent/ individual in crisis. Most of these families facing separation are just like the rest of us... trying to make the best of the circumstances they’re in. Cycles of brokenness and
trauma are a tough match for the under-resourced. And the thing about trauma and generational dysfunction is that it can be more of an affliction than a singular moment or place to be rescued from. Even when our memories don't recall trauma, our bodies remember. Every foster/ adoptive parent, person who's experienced dark times, and science can confirm this. Actual safety doesn't always mean felt safety. Anniversaries of traumatic events can feel like a freight train of emotions plowing through out of nowhere. Even without the memories, even in tiny babies, even in adults years removed from the traumatic events. Trauma is sneaky and pervasive like that. We can convince ourselves that behaviors should line up with our current lives of safety and security. Or we can recognize that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the past carries into our daily lives and those scars need to be tended to for longer than we (and the world around us) think is necessary.
Tenderness and patience, forgiveness and second chances, grace and acceptance, and pulling in when we feel like pushing away... The scars fade, trauma recedes, and safety sinks in, layer by layer.
Foster care is hard, yes. It is also worth it. And it also doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Some folks are meant to foster 100 kids, some are meant to adopt the waiting ones, some are meant to rock babies, some meant to mentor teens, and most are meant to be the surrounding support network for these families. Becoming a licensed foster home is not for everyone, but everyone can play a part. What many fail to see is that these parents who are guilty of unthinkable abuse and neglect are often times the very children we failed to protect a generation ago. If we're going to break these destructive cycles, it will take a selfless village armed with grace, compassion, and a willingness to get uncomfortable in the trenches.
You will not hear me say that foster care is for everyone. However, you will hear me shout that everyone can do SOMETHING. Be a village to other foster families, offer respite care and babysitting, become a CASA, use your gifts and resources to enrich the lives of these kids and their families (both biological and foster). Step into the messy… Grace is not cheap. We can do better for these precious and hurting little neighbors of ours. They are all our children, and for every hard there’s a worth it.
Photos above by Joy Prouty