Saturday, September 14, 2013

Not wine left on the dregs

I don't remember who said it first.  "I'd be interested in maybe adopting someday."  But before B and I were married and several times through the following nine years, we considered adoption as a far-off possibility.  Yet when we decided to start having kids, we went straight to the typical route, and so we have two biological sons, Dinosaur and Rhinoceros (though I love their real names and want to share them, foster care confidentiality has me spooked so we're trying to lay low with nicknames).  Then we questioned having a third child, and we knew something was different in this decision.  It took a long time, and taking more time brought in those old adoption thoughts.

Along the way, we talked with friends who were having the same Third Child Dilemma and considering adoption, and I learned two important pieces of information from them.  They had met with an agency to find out about adopting from foster care, having heard the term foster-to-adopt.  First, what they found was that agencies in our area are moving away from that concept, as the primary goal of foster care is that children reunite with their parents, and foster parents need to support that goal.  Planning to adopt from the outset can be a conflict of interests, so foster parents need to be ready to sacrifice any certainty of their future with a foster child.  Second, I learned that you can set an age range for the foster children you have in your home.  This was completely different than the image I had in my mind: foster parents with a teen that runs away, school-aged children that swear like sailors, and maybe a neglected toddler.  While this image can be true, there are also babies in foster care that need homes that are set up well for a baby that arrives without much warning.

The more we searched, prayed, and talked, we crossed off different adoption possibilities.  Foster-to-adopt didn't really exist, at least as we thought it did.  International or private adoption didn't seem like the right thing for us to do at this time.  Adopting older children from foster care seemed to be getting way in over our heads, plus we were concerned about Dinosaur and Rhinocerous and preferred to keep the birth order.  What about foster care for the youngest ones?  We had the space and even a lot of the baby gear.  Though foster parents definitely can work outside of the home, it is convenient for newborns if one parent is at home because they're so young for child care.  My part-time schedule only has me out of the home when B is home in the evenings.  I also thought how it was a good personality fit for me, as some teaching jobs in the past overwhelmed me with responsibility and decisions.  In foster care, I needed to just follow the rules and gives lots of love to babies.  So much would be out of my control, and I almost liked that.  And I couldn't deny it, I had baby fever.

Still, we knew that the foster care system was flawed and would frankly mess up our lives.  Heck, I learned that when I did a research paper in 11th grade on foster care.  It would affect our young sons.  It would affect our extended family.  We would learn about brokenness in the world in a way that our fairly sheltered lives had never touched.  Our lives weren't perfect and we had bad days, but we were comfortable with our family life.  So, would we mess that up?  Risk losing what we honestly loved?

The same week we really wrestled for hours together on these questions, we heard a sermon at our church with the answer.  There are few times in my life I've seen an answer in flashing lights, but this was one.  The scripture was Zephaniah 1:12  "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.'"  It was instantly clear to both of us that the complacency in our lives was our family life.  We liked having a family pretty similar to our friends, pretty similar to the families we grew up in.  Sure, we could learn about poverty, abuse, and drug addiction and volunteer to help others.  I had taught children with tough lives and served God in this way.  But God wanted us to shake things up more, even to the point of shaking up our home.  Our dabbling of service to God here and there was too much in our control, and it was making our wine bitter as it sat on its dregs.

We needed to take a risk for the sake of these vulnerable ones.  We needed to give despite the cost.  We needed to sacrifice the certainty of our family future (or what we thought was certain, anyway).  We knew we might end up adopting through foster care, but we might not, all along with no idea where this journey would lead.

We made our decision, and about four months from that sermon, we were licensed foster parents for ages 0-2.  Now we have two biological sons and a foster daughter, and when I explain that to others I often say, "She's with us for now."  So, this is us, this is my family (for now).

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