Wednesday, June 26, 2013

christian adoption, foster care and pride.

there are many ways that foster and adoptive parents can easily fall into a trap of pride.  the job is hard, but many outsiders laud the sacrifice and service of foster and adoptive parents, and these parents can begin to believe that they are, in fact, special people with greater giftings than others.

i don't write these things because i see them in others, but because i see them in myself.  and i want to shine gospel light on ways that pride can creep up on foster/adoptive parents.  let us repent of this pride and rejoice that jesus' blood cleanses us from the guilt we should bear and ask for the fruit of the Holy Spirit to fill us rather than pride.

condemning/judging birth parents.

i have heard some pretty horrible stories of things that foster children have gone through, stories that many people couldn't stomach.  but the tragic reality is, the parents who do these things were often victims of these same abuses as a child.  history repeats itself.  as i wrote about recently, hearing our current foster baby girl's mother speak to a class of foster parents in training really helped me to see things from her perspective.

birth parents are not monsters.  there are many complex reasons that resulted in the situations that caused their children to have been taken away or having to give up their children. but remember that they were made in the image of God with many good qualities and giftings, just like you and i were.  i am not excusing their sin, but merely saying that it is important to not narrowly focus on their sin to the exclusion on their positive characteristics.

it is important to remember that as foster/adoptive parents our position is not to judge the parents.  quite literally (at least in the foster system) it is the judge's position to judge the parents and determine what the punishment for their sin is as well as if and when they can be reunited with their children.  our role is to love the children in our home, and part of loving them is by helping them to follow the biblical command to honor their parents.  when we talk about and treat their parents with respect, we teach them to respect their parents.  this doesn't mean that we need to lie about sins their parents have committed, but instead to talk about these sins (when appropriate to speak of them) in a factual, non-judgmental way.

a passage that really helps put this in perspective for me is 1 corinthians 5:9-13:
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside."
as jesus modeled, it is good to be in relationship with and love on unrepentant non-believers.  it is unrepentant believers whom we should be judging.

expecting the children to be grateful

all foster and adoptive children have experienced trauma and loss.  at the minimum, even if they were placed in a loving adoptive home at birth, they have been separated from their mom whom they emotionally attached to for nine months in the womb.  but realistically, most foster or adoptive children have faced more trauma than this, such as abuse, neglect, starvation or prenatal drug or alcohol exposure.

'Unfair' photo (c) 2013, Runar Pedersen Holkestad - license:
many parents naively assume that their children will automatically be grateful to be adopted and will easily forget their past hurts and love their new home.  unfortunately, these past hurts and losses must be grieved and worked through.  there is hope that God can and will work these things for good, but it is important for foster and adoptive parents to recognize these things.

for a helpful list of things to think through on this topic, i recommend the article "The 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew About Adoption".

expecting the children to become believers

this is a similar sin of pride as the one mentioned above.  often we assume that children will see the beauty of how they have been adopted into our earthy families and think that they will probably also want to be adopted into God's family, becoming christians.

again it is important to repent of pride in this way.  again, we need to recognize the profound hurt that adopted and foster children have gone through, and beg God in prayer to work despite these hurts and draw these children to himself.  we need to recognize that it is not in our power to save our children, no matter what great deed we have done for them.

alex has mentioned to me before that in his experience, children adopted into christian families are actually less likely to become christians than the biological children of those families.  i don't know whether the actual statistics are the same as alex's personal experience, but no matter what, all parents need to fervently seek the Lord for their children's salvation.  He is mighty to save.

Monday, June 24, 2013

real life stories: fostering and adoption {jason and jennifer}

[after a bit of a break, we have another story in our "real life stories: fostering and adoption" series.  today we are going to hear from Jennifer and Jason in Ohio...]

Tell us about your family (how long you have been married, where you live, ages of your children, etc)

Hi! I am Jennifer and my husband, Jason, and I are high school sweethearts who have been married for twelve and a half years. We live in a small town in Ohio and currently have three biological children ages 5 ½, 8, and 10.  Jason is a computer programmer and I am a teacher turned stay-at-home, homeschooling mom (which I wouldn’t trade for any other job in the world).  We have been licensed foster parents for a little over a year and have had one placement (a precious eight month old boy, J, who was with us for two months). We are also currently in the process of adopting from China through the special needs program, and we hope to welcome a new addition (or two) to the family sometime this year.

What got you interested in fostering/adoption? Why did you decide to do it?

We first began to consider foster/adoption when we heard through our church that our local foster care coordinator had visited local church offices and shared that there was a need for foster parents in our county.  We love kids and had been talking off and on about adding to our family and had been seriously considering adoption. We felt that God might be trying to tell us something about His plan for our family, and although we were very hesitant and scared about entering into foster care we decided to take the 36 hours of training to find out more.  We went into the training with our goal being to adopt and were originally going to be licensed for adoption only (not foster care), but after a few classes we learned that our best option for adoption would be to foster to adopt and decided to get certified for both.  Our pre-service trainer said something that I will never forget and it ultimately became our reason for deciding to go ahead with our application. When our trainer talked about how hard foster parenting is she said, “You will cry. You will want to quit. It will be one of the hardest things you’ve done. It will push you to your limits. But in the end…it’s not about you.” [note from sarah: emphasis is mine.  this is a really great quote.]  As Christians this went straight to our hearts and we said, “Wow! You know what…she’s right. It’s not about us; it’s about the children, and ultimately, it’s about God.” It’s about the one who gave His life for us and told His disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25)

Has anything surprised you about the process?

We were completely and utterly unprepared for the pre-service training and the tragic stories we heard. We had no idea what many of the children in the foster system endured and our hearts ached for them. We were also unprepared for how broken the system is, and how hard and frustrating it can be to work with and within the system at times.
I also didn’t expect to love J so quickly or so deeply! I knew I would get attached, but I honestly thought it would be different (easier somehow) because he wasn’t ‘mine’ and I was surprised by how completely and utterly wrong I was on that. It’s not possible to love a little bit or half way, and I don’t think I would want to even if I could. Love is what makes good foster (and adoptive) parents because love is what these children need. All of these children desperately need our love and to know that they have a Savior who loves them more than they could ever dream.

How have you/your family/your spouse grown in this process?  How have your biological children handled it?

We have grown so much in this process, and although that doesn’t make it any easier it does make it worth it. We have learned to trust God so much more and I have had to lean on Him more than I ever have. I believe God has used this experience to show me how much I need Him every hour of every day.  When J left it was very difficult on all of us (and particularly on our oldest daughter and I), but Jason and I have used it as a learning opportunity for the kids (and ourselves) and although it is hard we have grown in our walk with God through the experience.

What difficulties or frustrations have you faced in the process?  What motivates you to keep going on in spite of this?

The biggest difficulty we faced in our experience was saying goodbye. I know several other foster families who have been very frustrated with their social worker and the agency, but we did not experience that in our particular situation.
We keep going because it truly isn’t about us. It is about the children who need us and it is about a Savior who gave up everything, sacrificed everything, and lost everything for us.  It is because Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
When I feel like quitting God speaks to me from His Word:
This is too hard! Nevertheless, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I can’t do this! Nevertheless, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9); I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
I don’t understand! Nevertheless, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28); For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
Why? ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Do you have a relationship with the birth parents? What does that look like?

We do not currently have a relationship with the biological parents, but we do have a very good relationship with the maternal grandparents who currently have custody of J. We babysit for J about every week and his grandma and I have become friends. We continue to pray for them and try to show them the love of Jesus at every opportunity.  I know that one day soon we may not be as involved in J’s life as we currently are and that is going to be hard because up to this point I have not had to truly let go, but I know God will be there through it all, that He is in control, and that He has a much bigger plan for J than I could ever imagine.

What advice would you give to other couples considering fostering/adoption? (What questions should they ask? How should they seek out support? etc)

Lean on God because He is the great comforter and know that He has a plan for you, your family, and the children whose lives you will touch!
Spend time in His Word every day even if it is only five minutes! Pray!
Construct a support system that includes family, friends, and fellow foster/adoptive parents.
Realize that fostering is one of the hardest jobs on earth, but it is also rewarding.
Understand that things will often not go as planned, hoped, or expected.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

may in our home

esther's first time in the ocean!
wow, june is almost over!  so this post is a bit delayed.  but all the sweeter for the wait :)

for mother's day, alex got me the book "when helping hurts".  flowers are nice, but books last much longer :)  and i have heard so many things about this book that i was eager to jump in.  and, wow.  it has been just as i had heard it was: convicting, educational, eye-opening, exciting, encouraging, challenging... all at the same time.  i am totally rethinking how i view ministry to the poor.  there are a few big things that have stuck with me so far.  first of all, in poverty alleviation it is really important that we diagnose what the problem is.  most of the time we diagnose the problem as being a lack of material goods, so we give food/clothing/shelter to the poor.  but this is not always the need (and sometimes, we actually hurt the poor and ourselves when we give these things and they are not the real need).  sometimes the problem leading to poverty is actually a lack of education, oppression by powerful people, personal sins or an incorrect world view (or a mixture of these things).  i am only about 1/4th of the way in and i am excited to keep learning and growing through this book.  it is likely that we will be working with the poor in whatever overseas ministry God leads us to, so this is good preparation.

since starting to crawl, baby girl has gotten more and more active and hasn't looked back.  she can now cross the room in just seconds and she loves to crawl on top of and bear hug/tackle her big sis.  she is getting more and more personality each day, which is making us grow even closer to her.  i'm glad that we know with a fair degree of certainty when she will leave (just about 2 months from now).  but it will be hard when it happens.

memorial day weekend was esther's first time in the ocean.  we drove down to south orange county for a campsite bbq near the beach with some friends.  it was only in the low 70's, so we didn't think it would be warm enough to swim, and didn't bother bringing swimming suits, towels or extra clothes.  but i should have known that my little water bug wouldn't stay away from the water for the world.  at home she loves the bath, constantly sticks her hands in the hose water as i water the garden and has a deep affinity for throwing dirt and toys in the watering can when it is full.  so, like i said, i should have known.  but i didn't, because, logically, who wants to swim when its in the low 70's?  well, toddlers don't operate out of logic.  so of course esther ran to the water as soon as she saw it.  we tried to minimize the damage by rolling up her pants, but that only lasted for about a minute until she dove head first into a wave.


but it was really endearing to see how fearless she was (she literally would have died if it wasn't for alex being right at her side to save her each time she was knocked over by a wave) and so refreshing to see the innocent eagerness of a toddler.  we could have watched her for hours, but her soaked clothes and the cool air didn't make for a good combination, and she was soon shivering.  with her hair matted with sand and her cloth diaper sopping wet we trekked back up the hill to the campsite.  fortunately, there were rinse off showers at the campsite to remove the sand, and it turned out that we had a change of clothes in the diaper bag, so esther was soon clean, warm and dry again.

sermons/talks i listened to in may that i recommend:
[these are both from the gospel coalition's 2012 women's conference]

the sabbath: a biblical theological approach by mary willson

marriage through gospel eyes: mrs. law or mrs. grace? by jani ortland

Thursday, June 20, 2013

foster care, poverty alleviation and changing our country...

over the past few weeks, God has really been growing my passion about foster care.

'Cute Baby' photo (c) 2013, Slapix - license:
our social worker just told me today that our agency
is getting numerous calls every day looking for homes for babies,
and they don't have near enough homes to place them all.
now you might think that i already had a passion for foster care.  and that would be true, kinda.  you see, up until the past few weeks, my passion has been for adopting through the foster care system.  this is a great thing.  but i am now realizing the importance of fost/adopt parents being foster parents first, adoptive parents second.  in the foster care system, the goal should always be reunification, and in my sin and pride, i was putting too much emphasis on adopting.

many things have contributed to this.

one thing was the important article from john piper he recently wrote about christian adoption.  i was especially struck by his words "Christian adoption disavows that adoption is always better than assisting a birth family to raise its children." and "Christian adoption disavows that putting a child in a Christian home justifies taking a child away from his or her non-Christian home."  these were important words for me to remember, since i can too easily view myself as a better parent, and our home a better home than the ones our foster kiddos have come from.

another factor was the recent q and a panel that we did at our fostering agency.  because we have been working so well with our baby girl's birth mother, they asked alex and i and her to come speak to foster parents in training.  it was really helpful to hear the things that our baby girl's mom said, and really gave me deep empathy for where she has been in life.  it made me realize that if i had a background like hers, i might also have made similar mistakes that would result in my child being taken into the foster care system.  furthermore, i felt encouraged after the time to know that we have been such an integral part in a few different ways of helping her to get back on her feet.  even without adopting baby girl, we are having an impact on the rest of her life by what we are doing for this first year of her life.

another way that God has been working on my heart is through the book "when helping hurts... alleviating poverty without hurting the poor or yourself".  as i have been reading the book, i have learned a LOT about poverty alleviation, including some ways that i have been doing it completely wrong.  as i have been reading, i have been praying a lot and asking God what our role in poverty alleviation (PA) is.  and the answer was very clear (and obvious)... foster care! (side note: certainly not all foster children come from impoverished families, but many do.  plus, statistics show that foster children usually grow up to be impoverished and those who age out of the system without being reunified or adopted have a pretty high chance of being homeless) by working with birth families in a loving way, and providing a good, gospel-centered home to kiddos, we are helping to rebuild people's dignity and get them back on their feet which will help them move forward in life, including getting out of poverty.  realizing this has made me more eager to minister to and work with birth families of all the foster kids we will be ministering to.

i have also been enjoying these videos and articles from a church in texas that is also involved in foster care.

my passion boils down to this:  there are a half million children in foster care in america right now (200,000 are available for adoption today).  my desire is that christians would leave their comfort zones, step up and take these children in!  oh, how much the future of our country would change if all of these children were being praying for as they were tucked in at night, read bible stories every day, and learning from parents who preach the gospel and repent of sin!  oh how much their families would be changing if the foster parents of their children who have been taken away were helping them, calling them just to talk and show that they care, inviting them to church and buying them bibles!  foster care is hard, but it is whole life ministry with great opportunities for rubbing shoulders with sinners on the lowest rungs of society in the same way that jesus did.

in twenty years, it is very likely that christians will be persecuted in our country, hated by others because of our "intolerant" views.  but what would the government and society do if they realized that the majority of loving foster homes are made up of these rouge christians?  could they so easily push us aside if we are providing such a crucial service?

Lord, please raise up an army of gospel-centered, repentant, spirit-filled foster parents in our country!