Friday, February 14, 2014

Breakout Session Teaser: Foster Care in the US

Whenever we get the opportunity to speak to groups about our experiences of being foster parents, my husband starts the speech the same way every time.  He starts with the sweet story of how he has had a crush on me since he was 15 years old.  So sweet.  And yet, unfortunately for him,  I did not feel the same way back then.  So he talks about how it took 6 years, but he kept at it and finally wore me down enough that I agreed to marry him!  His story continues on with how I returned the favor and wore him down until he was convinced to get into foster care.  Not so sweet!
It is funny to hear him say & it makes the groups we are talking to laugh and smile.  It is a good icebreaker before we get into the seriousness of what foster care is and how it has changed our lives.  But the truth of the matter is that I did not wear him down.  I never would have been able to do that nor would I have wanted to.  Foster care is not something that you can convince, manipulate, or force someone into, not if it is going to be effective and be something that changes your heart and brings hope and healing to children.  I wholeheartedly believe  it is something that God calls you to and He is the one that will lay it on your heart.
I wish I could tell people that doing foster care is all sunshine and rainbows and happiness.  I wish I could tell them that all the kids in foster care are so relieved to be “rescued” from their hard circumstances that they are the most obedient and respectful children you will ever come into contact with.  It would be nice to be able to tell them that the system is always just and fair and does exactly what we feel is best for the child.  I would like to tell them that working with biological families is a piece of cake and they are always pleasant and polite when you interact.  I mean, you are taking care of something precious to them so how could they not be grateful!  I bet I could get a lot of people to give foster care a shot if I was able to tell them how easy and rewarding it is every day!  But my goodness, that would be the biggest lie I have ever told!  Foster care is hard and messy.  It is heart-wrenching and uncomfortable.  It is full of excited nervous hellos and horribly painful goodbyes. It requires you and your family to make sacrifices that you may not be ready or willing to make.
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  For those of us who know the rest of the story we often forget that at the time Jesus said this, it was outlandish!  “If you want to be my student, pick up the most demeaning, traumatic, shameful, painful way to die and follow me with it.” Jesus calls us to follow Him, but at a cost to us - emotionally, physically and socially.  We consider foster care to be our cross.
My husband and I would both tell you that we would quit foster care right this moment if we could.  In moments of weakness we often comment how easy it would be to “only” have four children. How we long to eat at a restaurant without needing a table for 8 with 3 high chairs & to be able to make it through that meal without one of our little people having an embarrassing meltdown. How wonderful it would be to not get the judgmental stares and looks when we walk into places with our very large, very young, mixed race crew of kids.   So many days end with one (or both!) of us needing an emotional break - usually this involves increased doses of coffee or chocolate (or both!)  And I can’t even begin to count how many times my husband has said, “You’re going to bed at 9?” or “Wow, you look tired!”  Always lovely to hear!
And while we wistfully talk about how much different our lives would be if we had not started this journey 4 years ago, we continue to daily pick up “our cross”. We do it because it is a burden that God has placed on our hearts. We feel it is the ministry He has called us to while we are here on earth.  So we choose to take up our “cross” daily and do what God is calling us to do.  And if this cross--taking care of and loving innocent, hurting children--is the cross that we must bear on this earth, then we are blessed - for what an easy burden that is to bear!

My name is Joanna Holden.  I have been married to my college sweetheart for 13 years.  We have 3 biological daughters and adopted our 2 year old son through foster care in December.  We have had the privilege of being a temporary home & family for 15 precious children in the 4 years that we have been foster parents.  Each face & name is imprinted on our hearts forever!
I will be speaking in one of the breakout sessions about the crisis of foster care in our country & different ways that we can give our hearts to these children & families.  While God does not call all of us to personally care for foster children in our homes, I am convinced that we can all reach out & in some way support these children and the families that care for them!

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