When I was 17, the 18 month old foster sister my family had cared for returned to her biological mother. In the nine months Katie* (named changed) was with us, she learned to say her first words to us, took her first steps with us, called my mother, “momma,” referred to me as “me-me”, and blew out her first birthday candles with us. And then one day we got a call that said the courts would be giving Katie back to her mother after a trial visitation period. Katie’s mother, who was going to put her up for adoption, had changed her mind.
I am the one holding Katie when the caseworker comes to take her away. I am standing in front of the screen door, baby straddled on my hip, with her diaper bags and other belongings waiting at my feet. I am only two years younger than Katie’s mother. The caseworker makes several trips to the back of her station wagon before all of Katie’s things are loaded. Then she comes back one last time for Katie. Katie turns her head away from the caseworker coming toward her, hides her face against my shoulder, tightens her arms around my neck, and immediately starts to scream.The caseworker tries to coax Katie to come to her but fails. I do not help. I refuse to be the first one to let go. Finally, the caseworker pulls her from me, repeatedly detaching the little hands that cling at my collar, my shirt, my hair. I stand rooted on the front porch until I see that Katie is buckled safely in the backseat of the station wagon and then I turn and go back into the house. I do not want to see the drive away, the small crying face framed in the window looking at me, accusing me, asking me how I could let her go without more of a fight.
I do not think at the time what the better good is in all this. I do not think yet of Katie’s real mother and all the months she has to make up for, the pain of training her own child not to look at her like a stranger and cry when she attempts to hold her. I do not think of all the pages missing in the baby book that her mother cannot fill in. I do not remind myself that no one ever promised this would be permanent. I am mad that God would allow this child to go to a home that I think at the time will be less ideal than mine. I want an explanation. I want to know that all the love poured into this child has not been for nothing. And I will get my answer, although not in the way I expected and not for many years.
Because my mother built a good relationship with Katie’s mother, we were able to continue to babysit her frequently. Over the next five years she spent many weekends with us. Katie gained a little brother, Jake, and he was added to our weekend fun. They went to church with us on Sundays and vacation bible school in the summer. Then when Katie turned five, her mother took a job in another part of the state and our weekend visits ended. But later we learned that because Katie was used to going to church with us, she nagged her mom to take her to church. Her mom finally gave in and attended church with her children. Eventually, mom, Katie, and Jake all came to know Christ as their personal Savior. And suddenly, I saw the bigger picture that God had in mind all along.
I had been so selfish. I wanted Katie for my family because I thought that was what was best. I didn’t want to “lose” her. But my idea of “loss” contrasted with God’s plans. God wanted to reach out to rescue not just one child, but a whole family and bring them into a relationship with him. There was never a real “loss” because Katie belonged to God the whole time and God never loses his children.
Now that I am a foster parent, I hold on to Katie’s story when I am faced with the difficulty of saying goodbye to a child I have loved and it gives me hope and assurance that God’s ways, although often unseen and unknown by us, are always for a greater good than we can even imagine. The longer I foster, the more I am convinced that God cares less about comfort and more about transformation. He is in the business of drawing people to Himself, not giving people what they want. And this changes how I see my relationships with others even outside of the fostering world. If God can pour out unconditional love over and over again to people who reject him, whom am I to insist that I will only love those that will love me back and “belong” to me?
My prayers have also been transformed as I wrestle with the proper way to pray for the little ones in my home. I want to pray selfishly that God will allow me to keep the child I have fallen in love with because that’s what seems the better choice. But Bronwyn Lea argues in her blog that instead of praying “God, make it better”, we need to pray “God, make it count.” This aptly applies to foster parents who have little control over difficult situations where the right path is unclear. So I have learned to pray (often through tears) a one sentence prayer each night as I rock my foster child to sleep: God use this child’s story to glorify You, with or without me.
-written by Rebecca Clemens, foster mom