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We gave up three gorgeous Saturdays that spring, to sit in a classroom. For hours. Listening to presentations about foster care.

Our property lies beside a seasonal creek. And whenever the sky pours rain, a narrow flood rushes between the banks, carrying away broken tree branches and uprooted weeds and grasses, plus any roadside trash caught in the flow. Sometimes wind gusts pound the rain onto our metal roof and against the windows – nature’s elements at war. And the power goes out. Other times, the low, gray clouds release moisture in gentle, soothing drops, not bent on destruction, but bringing refreshment.

During the first few years we had lived here, as I watched the torrents of water swirling downstream, I thought of children caught in the deluge of brokenness due to cultural and family tragedy – the children who become foster kids.

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Since I was a girl I’ve had a heart for adoption. Is it possible to give a greater gift to a child than a home and family? And for Christians, this gift can have eternal benefits as families of faith introduce adopted and foster children into the Kingdom.

The Lord had allowed us to conceive and birth two children of our own. But our house was big, and there was room for more. And the image of children drowning in a culture of wasted lives, due to substance abuse, single parents (some whose parents who grew up in the foster care system), psychological, sexual and emotional trauma and divorce, replayed in my mind over and over again.

The Preacher and I talked it over for several months. Other couples in our church had become licensed foster parents. And while it was far from easy, and there was no offer of any guarantee that the children would embrace the new life offered, I could see the hand of God at work. And I wanted to be a part of it.

Shortly after sacrificing those three spring Saturdays to the state of California, following weeks of reading and signing mounds of paperwork, purchasing cabinet locks and doorknob covers and outlet plugs and sippy cups, baby wipes, extra toothbrushes and lice-treatment shampoo, being interviewed multiple times and opening our home to social workers for inspection…

We were ready.

Finally.

At least I hoped we were ready.

Within days of the certification process being finalized, I received the first call.

Could you take an eleven-year-old girl? She’ll be twelve soon, and her brothers are with another foster family, and your daughter could be a friend to her. She’ll go to school near you, and she’s really sweet…

Of course we could. Isn’t that what we signed up for? Here we go!

She stayed with us four months. In between her moments of sweetness, there was truancy and the running-away episode, visits from Sheriff’s deputies, temper tantrums at home, complete melt-downs in the stores when I wouldn’t let her buy junk food or four-inch spiked heels, continual slumps into depression, suicidal thoughts, candy wrappers stuffed under the bed and into hidden corners, excuses for not doing homework, threats to puke in my van on the way to town, and the space heater scorching the bathroom door after she forgot to turn it off.

I forgot to mention, within the same week of accepting Rachel into our home, we agreed to provide respite care for another foster family by taking in two-year-old Katie for a couple weeks. (Names of foster children have been changed to protect their privacy.)

With two foster children from different families, this added an unexpected tension of rivalry between them, while trying to secure our favor. Not that they needed to, but there was so much they didn’t understand about healthy family dynamics.

Rachel hunched over her plate at mealtime, and insisted on wearing bright red lipstick and nail polish. Besides her age, the red clashed with her auburn hair. On Sunday mornings I’d fix her hair and remark how beautiful her eyes were. A rich chocolate brown. We did begin seeing her sweet side, and in time her grades improved. But the struggle continued.

Katie only drank milk and only from her bottle. She loved homemade fruit juice popsicles, and once in a while she’d eat a few fishy crackers. Her bottle was the one security in her crazy, upside-down world.

Rarely do social workers separate siblings. But in these two cases it was better for everyone. The girls could get some one-on-one attention without the continual conflict with their brothers. (And the foster parents wouldn’t be stretched beyond their limits.)

Rachel’s dad lived in his car, moving from state to state, from one set of relatives to another. And her mom was an addict. A drug test was given before each scheduled visit. If clean, Rachel got to spend the two hours with her. But if not, she was brought back to our house. And we felt the brunt of her anger.

My mom loves drugs more than me!

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I applaud the efforts, but in some cases the state is wrong. Children don’t just want to be loved. Nor do they just want a home and family. They want to live in their home, with their family. And to be loved by their dad and mom. Period.

Because there is a difference and they feel it. Hard and deep and every moment of every day spent in a stranger’s home, in someone else’s bedroom… this longing for affirmation and significance and a love unconditional from the two people who should value them more than life itself.

To be continued…

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