It’s another big day in our household. The morning began by taking a little boy to breakfast for his favorite, biscuits and gravy. He was only with us for the night. It’s what they call a “pre-placement visit” for fostering a child. Basically, it’s an opportunity to get to know the child before deciding whether we are best suited to meet his particular needs. Once finished, we rushed him across town to his current home, a residential care facility for children whose behaviors are too complex for the average home. We’ve already decided … we want him. Now we just need to finalize the details of medications, appointments and paperwork. With any luck, we’ll have him back here in the next week.
Next, it’s time to finish getting another bed ready for our “new arrival.” This preschooler will be arriving around 2 p.m. Before he gets here, I have to run to the furniture store to pick up a new bed. When I get there, the owner of the store makes inquiry and after a short discussion learns that I’m a foster parent. Then she says it, something I must have heard well over a hundred times throughout the past fifteen years, “I’ve always thought about fostering, but I’m afraid that I just couldn’t give them back!”
You know, that’s a great point. What on earth would possess someone to open their home to stress, inconvenience and broken hearts? Well, for me, the story begins about sixteen years ago.
My wife had, for many years, a great desire to help those who were either hungry or orphaned. I’m a pastor by vocation (but mostly by calling), and so there were often opportunities to be involved at some level with what we in ministry would label ‘mission work.’ However, the burden upon my wife’s heart would not be satiated by a two week excursion into some remote country or an evening spent in an inner-city women’s shelter distributing meals. Not that there was anything trivial about those specific opportunities, but she longed for something more. I guess she was pursuing the bigger question of “what am I here for?” So she began looking into foster care.
It didn’t take long before she began talking with me about the great need within the foster care system. And then came the question: “Honey, do you think we could ever be foster parents?” To which I very matter-of-factly replied, “No!” She didn’t push. She just continued to research it, read about it and periodically bring it up. Then one day she asked me, “Would you at least pray about us becoming foster parents?” To which I, once again replied that I would not. She replied, “But you’re a pastor! You won’t even pray about it?” I said, “Listen, there are some things in life you don’t have to pray about. I don’t pray about leaving a burning building. I don’t pray about going to the basement when tornado sirens are going off. And, I certainly don’t need to pray about becoming a foster parent!”
In my mind, that was something other people did. You know who I’m talking about–the ones that get the stamp on their heel when they’re born: “missionary” or “philanthropist”–you know, those other people. Not people like me. Those other people who were especially equipped for that type of work.
When I finally agreed to start praying, my goose was cooked. Everywhere I looked I saw the faces of needy children. I read articles about the foster care crisis, over 12,000 in Missouri alone. I saw commercials pleading for people to get involved. It was simply everywhere and too big to be missed. So why hadn’t I seen it before? I guess I just wasn’t looking. It’s kind of like the homeless people on the street corner downtown. They are there every day, but if you don’t make eye contact with them, it can almost be like they don’t exist. At least, it can seem that way in your mind. So, I finally relented and we began the classes.
I won’t say that we’ve seen it all yet, because every time that I think I have seen the worst that humanity can dish out upon itself, I’m stunned with a new story. Just a couple of weeks ago, we received a call about taking two siblings for emergency placement. It seems as though their sister, who is a preteen, was kept in a water heater closet for three years and completely unknown to the neighboring apartments. She was 30 pounds when they found her. Yes, still alive somehow, but barely. She lived in that closet for three years and her next door neighbors didn’t even know she existed! Does that not bother anyone else?
Not all of the kids who have passed through our home have been that severely abused. Although they tell me that on average, somewhere between 70-80% of kids coming into foster care have been sexually abused. (Those are just the ones that they know about.)
One of the first children we ever took was a young man that we picked up at the courthouse. I think he was 14. The Juvenile Officer was telling us to keep everything in the house locked up because this kid was an habitual thief. (Of course, he took the liberty to tell us that in front of the teen.) On the contrary, this kid was hands down the absolute epitome of the perfect child. He did everything asked of him with a smile. He was never disobedient, never argumentative and always said “please” and “thank you” when he spoke. Besides all that, he happened to be blessed with incredible good looks. Everyday when he would take the trash out to the dumpster, there would be a group of girls sitting across the street just waiting to get a glimpse of him. One day when he was gone on a visit, I was taking trash out and the group of girls saw me. They asked, “Is [he] home?” When I said that he was not, they let out a terrible moan and got up and sauntered off. I remember telling my wife when I returned to the house, “We’ve got Elvis living in our home!”
Several years after he left our home, we had moved to another town and he to another state. He apparently drove to our former town looking for us. He checked around and learned of our new location and then drove there to see us. His reason? Although he had only spent three months with us as a foster child, he thought it important for us to meet his fiancée before they got married.
That’s just one story. I could tell you many, but I want to get back to my original question: “Why do we open our home?” Because kids need us to take them in.
Is it stressful? It can be. But think about how stressful their lives are either living in an abusive home or being bounced from center to center because there is no home for them.
Does it interfere with our lives? I suppose. But what do I have to do that is so significant that it couldn’t be widened a bit to accommodate one more person in need?
Does it break our hearts when they leave? Many times yes (though admittedly, sometimes not as much as at others). But it breaks any parent’s heart when their children leave home. And, sooner or later, they all do.
I don’t select not to have children join us because of these reasons–why should I allow these reasons to keep me from helping others who are in need? I’m reminded of a verse from the Bible that sums it up for me, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” I indeed have been given much. What little I give back seems only fitting.
The Willoughbys are foster parents in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Tom is a Professor/Minister and Stacy is a Stay-At-Home Mom. They have two biological children and two adopted children. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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