In the Dark Valleys

“I don’t think I can do this.”

My husband and I had just walked out of our ninth foster parent training session. We only had one more class to complete before we would be granted our license to provide foster care. Although previous sessions had taught us about the horrifying effects of trauma and abuse and the vast responsibilities of caring for vulnerable children, nothing had deterred me from my desire to become a foster parent until that night.

A top-level director of the Department of Child Protective Services had been the speaker at that night’s session. He spoke about the serious manner with which the department handled allegations of abuse made against foster parents. He explained that the department had a responsibility to investigate and prosecute every single accusation of abuse to the fullest extent of the law…even if they believed the accusation was false. He described the manner in which we’d be investigated if we were ever accused of inappropriate behavior, as well as ways to avoid allegations and ways to protect our family from such an experience.

It scared me to death.

As soon as we got in the car, I grabbed my husband’s hand and made my confession. I wasn’t scared of challenging behaviors or a broken heart, but the thought of a false accusation caused my heart to quake.

“If that ever happened to us, I don’t think I could handle it. I’m not strong enough for that,” I admitted.

We talked about the risks and the ways we could protect our family, and my husband offered his reassurance. In the end, I convinced myself it could never happen to us. I decided we would be the model foster parents. I never thought about it again except for when I made sure to follow all the necessary precautions to keep our foster children and our family safe.

Then, it happened. A serious allegation was lodged against me, and our family faced the greatest trauma we’ve ever faced. It was worse than I even imagined it could be.

In the midst of the trauma, my grief was so deep that I woke up crying every morning. The tears would be leaking through the cracks between my eyelids and sliding down my cheeks before I even opened my eyes. The fear was overwhelming, and hopelessness was lurking at the edges of my heart. When bedtime arrived each night, I fell asleep as my tears fell onto my pillow.

I felt like I was constantly surrounded by enemies: my accuser, the investigators, the broken system, grief, fear, hopelessness… I remember reading the following psalm one afternoon during that time and feeling like I was seeing it for the first time:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:4-6

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I tried to imagine it that night at dinner. I tried to imagine sitting at my dining room table and eating my dinner while my accuser stood right behind my husband. I imagined trying to swallow my food while the investigators stood behind my children. I imagined the grief and the fear as rancid scents permeating the air around us. I could not figure out why preparing a table in the presence of someone’s enemies would be a comfort.

Then, I started to think of the nights when our foster children were with us at our dining table. I remembered preparing a table for them and creating a safe place for them to eat in the midst of the brokenness in their lives. I remembered rocking them to sleep in the midst of their immense grief. I remembered playing and laughing with them despite the incredible trauma they had faced. As a parent, I created a space where they could find safety and rest in my love no matter what circumstances surrounded them outside of our home. In the same way, I could trust God and rest in his love no matter what I was facing.

Being a foster parent challenged my faith in the most extreme ways. I came face to face with the boundaries of my belief, and I was forced to recognize my limited view of God. But through each challenge, God proved himself faithful. Time and time again, he answered my prayers and revealed his strength in my weakness.

If you are walking through a dark valley, trust God. Read Psalm 23 and consider the power of those words. If you are fighting a fierce battle, listen to “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” and let the truth of the message sink deep into your spirit. Pray and ask God to carry you through this time. Trust him. He is good.