Categories
Blog Theology Thursday

Yātôm Week 1: What the Bible Really Says About the Orphan

I grew up with a deep love for the outdoors. From a young age, my dad would take my brother and me camping and backpacking. One year we were gearing up for a 50-mile backpacking trip with several of my friends and their parents in Lassen National forest through the beautiful Cascade Mountains of California. In preparation for the trip, everyone had to read about how and what to pack. Preparation was very important because primitive trails like these have no running water, bathrooms, or trash cans. You had to pack in and pack out everything you needed for the 4-day journey. Mount Lassen was a particularly difficult hike because the trails were covered in sand which made walking even more tiring. Carefully reading about how and what to pack was essential for completing the journey alive and healthy.

For the most part we had all prepared well and were equipped for the hike. That is, all of us except my friend Jason. Because Jason had lots of experience camping, he only skimmed the material that told him what to pack – but packing for camping and packing for a hike are completely different. Only a half-day into our wilderness journey, we noticed that Jason kept falling behind, so we stopped to see how he was doing. Jason told us that he felt exhausted and that his back was really hurting. We were all surprised by this, because Jason was in great shape! We decided to divide some of the items in his pack to help lighten his load, but when we opened his backpack, we couldn’t believe what we found. Jason had packed multiple non-essential items that were making his pack exceedingly heavy, including several cans of food, a large bottle of hair spray and – wait for it – a blow dryer! After we recovered from the shock of how poorly Jason had packed, we ate all the canned food, distributed some of Jason’s items among the other hikers and went on our way.  

I believe there are many ‘Jason’s’ among those seeking to advocate for children in foster care. There are many people who set out on the journey of foster care having read only part of the manual. Like Jason, they have made assumptions about what the Bible says about the fatherless and these assumptions have left well-intentioned travelers exhausted or unable to complete the journey. Advocating for children in foster care – like hiking the Cascade Mountains – is a beautiful yet changeling journey, and one that we must be diligent to prepare for. 

Pastor Rick Warren helps us unpack why seeing the Bible as a manual for life is so important. He says, 

life can be dangerous, so it’s essential that you use the right equipment. One of those pieces of equipment is the Bible. It’s like God’s owner’s manual for your life. Like any good owner’s manual, the Bible gives you instructions and you can consult it when you need help. (1)

The path of life can be dangerous and the Bible helps us find our way. It is a life manual, full of wisdom. It contains the teachings necessary to prepare us for the journey of foster care.  

The problem is that when people refer to the ‘manual’ about God’s heart for the fatherless, they often only point to one or two verses in the Bible. Be honest – how many times have you heard or read content about foster care or adoption that references either James’ call for “true religion” or the Psalmist reminder that “God sets the lonely in families?” Both passages are certainly important for helping us know how and what to pack for the journey of foster care, but is that really all the Bible has to say about the fatherless? Are these two passages really enough to understand God’s heart for vulnerable children? And most importantly, are they adequately preparing us for what’s ahead? Because unless we truly understand what to pack, we will not have the necessary supplies to finish the journey – let alone finish in a place of health. 

Part of the problem is that most people have neglected the Old Testament – the place where the vast majority of references to the fatherless are found. In fact, James 1:27 is the only place in the New Testament that orphans are explicitly mentioned. When we compare this one reference to the 42 mentions of the orphan in the Old Testament it becomes clear that the vast majority of the Bible’s teaching comes from the Hebrew Scriptures. 42 times in the Old Testament God reveals his heart towards children who do not have a home. 42 times God provides the insight and perspective we need to care for these amazing children. If we have any hope of truly understanding God’s heart for vulnerable children we can no longer neglect the truth these passages have to offer. 

I mean, can you imagine trying to do a 42 piece puzzle with only one or two pieces!? How frustrating!? How incomplete!? Yet I am proposing this is exactly what we do when we neglect the majority of God’s thoughts about vulnerable children. It’s time we stopped being content with one or two pieces of the puzzle. It’s time we go looking for the rest of the pieces so we can see the beautiful picture of God’s heart for the fatherless. 

So for the next few weeks we will open the manual and start gathering the missing pieces of the puzzle in hopes that we better prepare ourselves for the journey. But before we start, it would be helpful to understand a bit about the trail ahead. 

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. Anytime you study the Old Testament, you should do a bit of research to discover what key Hebrew words are used and what insight those words offer regarding your topic. Most English translations use the words ‘fatherless’ and ‘orphan’ to describe children who need a home. But when we look at the Hebrew we learn that both English words are translated from the single Hebrew word yātôm [ya-TOME]. As I have mentioned already, yātôm is a common word occurring 42 times in the Old Testament. What is interesting – and very insightful – about the word yātôm is that it is constructed around the Hebrew verb meaning ‘to be lonely.’ One would expect the word to mean something like ‘to be without parents.’ Yet in the Hebrew mind, to be an orphan, is to be lonely

I believe this small insight offers profound wisdom to help us navigate the needs of adoptive children and kids in foster care. There is a cold isolation and loneliness that many children in foster care experience. Even once children find an adoptive home the experience and trauma of being removed from your birth family never completely goes away.

I was talking with a mom just the other day who was sharing how her teenage adopted daughter told her how isolating it was to be the only adoptee among her peers. This experience left her feeling like she was the only one who didn’t belong in the group.  Another adoptive mom shared how after her 4 year old daughter’s birth mom’s parental rights were terminated she sat in her lap crying out “mommy, mommy!” Even though this precious little girl was actively being held by her forever mom, somewhere deep down inside, she felt alone. 

I don’t cite such examples to be fatilist or hopeless. As one of the most quoted passages about yātôm says, we serve a God who is “a father to the fatherless.” A “God [who] sets the lonely in families.” (2) I mentioned these stories to highlight the brilliance of Hebrew wisdom. The very word yātôm gives us deep insight and direction on how we can best love children without a family – to be present with them in their loneliness. Once we correctly understand the word, yātôm becomes a safeguard against thinking there is an easy answer to meeting the needs of adoptive children and kids in foster care. It teaches us that yātôm’s very experience has been marked by loneliness and what they need most is for us to be with them. God calls his people to be the embodied presence of Christ – a presence that stands with yātôm through their best and worst days. 

Over the next few weeks we will be diving into the Old Testament scriptures to learn what the Bible actually says about yātôm. Each Thursday we will post a new blog that unpacks a new aspect of God’s heart for the fatherless. My hope and prayer is that by the end of our time together we will all be a little more equipped for the journey. And by God’s grace, more of us will not only make it to the end of the trail, but when we arrive at our destination, we will be healthy.  

Ryan MacDonald

1 – https://pastorrick.com/the-bible-gods-owners-manual-for-life/
2 –  Psalm 68:5-6

Categories
Blog

All and Nothing

“Go get your son.”

I will never forget the day I heard those words in the deepest part of my spirit. My boss had forwarded me an email for an upcoming project at work, and the email included the profile of a child in need of a foster home. Before I finished reading the first paragraph, I knew he was my son.

It sounds crazy, I know.

I wouldn’t believe it myself, if my best friend hadn’t walked in mere minutes later.

She found me sitting in front of my computer with tears streaming down my face.

“I think this is my son,” I whispered.

It would be three months before that little boy walked through the front door of my home and an additional two years before he shared my last name, but that still, small voice was true – he is my son.

We’ve shared incredible highs and weathered indescribable lows. We’ve watched each other change and grow. We’ve laughed and celebrated miraculous milestones. We’ve cried and endured immeasurable losses. We’ve learned new things and made new memories. We’ve learned how to apologize and offer forgiveness. None of it has been perfect, and every single bit has been holy.

Adoption has been nothing like I imagined and more than I could have ever hoped. Words feel inadequate, and I find myself struggling to describe our story in a way that captures its true beauty.

What I know is this – if I could go back to that moment and read that email again for the first time, I would run even faster and fight even harder to bring my son home again. I am so grateful I get to be his mom, and it is a privilege I will never take for granted. 

I don’t know what the future holds for us. Whatever it is, we’ll face it together – mother and son, forever.

Categories
Blog

What Does Love Require of Me?

June is National Reunification Month, and it is no coincidence that we are reunifying our sweet baby love with family this month. In the past 6 years, we have said “yes” to 12 children, and 11 of them have reunified with their parents or have moved into kinship care with family. When I think of the beginning of our family’s journey to where we are now, I can pinpoint the various moments when we chose to lay our desires, expectations and dreams at Jesus’ feet…when we chose to “get out of the way”, so to speak, so families could be made whole and children could remain with their families of origin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Loving a child with everything in you…with your entire soul, body & mind and then watching them literally walk out of your life, majority of which we never see or hear from again, is incredibly heartbreaking. 12 goodbyes means that my heart is fractured in ways that will never be made whole this side of heaven. 12 goodbyes means there are moments that trigger memories from seasons of our life that bring a wave of immense joy and immense grief at the exact same time. And…yet…

Jesus laid down his life for mine. Jesus cried out to his Father, begging for another way. Jesus lavishly loved and gave and sacrificed knowing there was nothing that could be returned…knowing his heart, mind, body, and soul would also not receive the wholeness and redemption this side of heaven. When I think of championing reunification, it means I ask myself “What does loving this person at this moment mean? How can I bring a small glimpse of heaven down to them in this interaction? How can I use the love that is poured out onto me and lavish them with that love? How can I align my heart with the Father’s heart for families to be reconciled?”

I heard a question a few years ago that has become the foundation of our fostering journey: “What does love require of me today?” Not just the easy kind of love….not the kind where you only show up for the people who can reciprocate that love…but the Jesus, lay-down-your-life, expect-nothing-in-return, kind of love.

What does love require?

It means waving and smiling to bio dad from my car every visit for 18 months because I was not allowed to have contact with him. Loving him meant making sure he did not feel like the enemy…that even though he would never be able to hear my voice, he would know that he was seen.

What does love require?

It means making newborn footprints into a Christmas tree card framed side-by-side with a photo of baby smiling. It means wrapping that framed gift, tying it with a bow and a note of genuine affection and encouragement for a momma navigating the darkest season of her life.

What does love require?

It means hugging a mother during a Family Meeting as she sobs uncontrollably at the thought of losing her babies. It means holding her face in your hands and looking into her eyes and to tell her to keep fighting…that you will be there for as much of her journey as possible, and that her babies are safe in your care while she works tirelessly to find wholeness and healing so she could bring them home.

What does love require?

It means looking into the eyes of the little girl you’ve known all her life…that you love so deeply that you don’t even know where she ends and you begin….and come to the realization that loving her means you will need to say your hardest goodbye so she can live the rest of her life in the next city over with her siblings. It means actually fighting for that move to happen because, although it’ll break your heart, you know being with her siblings in kinship care is the best place for her.

What does love require?

It means putting on the necklace mom gave to her baby every visit so her beliefs and hopes are seen and respected. It means dressing that toddler for this week’s visit with the outfit mom gave you at last week’s visit. It means advocating for more visits because it is in the best interest of the child and parent to bond. It means texting mom after court and rejoicing with her after a long awaited ruling. It means praying for the mom or dad you will never have the chance to meet, but are loving their child for this season. It means smiling, showing up, adjusting your schedule, expecting the unexpected, looking someone in the eye…Love requires seeing the person in front of you for who they really are, not the choices they have made or the trauma they have endured, or the judgements that have been made of them. Every person I have met in this system over the past 6 years needs someone to see them and have deep compassion.

Choosing to step into this broken world of foster care means we are choosing to champion reunification…it means we are faithfully following the Father as he leads us on a messy, complicated, heartbreaking path toward what we hope and pray is healing and wholeness. It means that we step into every encounter and ask ourselves “what does love require of me in this moment?” 

Christina B.

Categories
Blog

Being a Support Friend During a Pandemic

When I think about our church’s involvement with Foster the Bay, the first phrase that comes to mind is “people stepped up.” Our church is rather small, and instead of wrapping a family in our own congregation, our first team of four wrapped a family who lived in our neighborhood but attended a separate church. There were definitely some steep learning curves, but we hit a stride. While some friends helped with rides and meals, other friends supported with babysitting and play-dates.

Then, March 2020 came, and with shelter-in-place, we didn’t really know what to do. Sure we could send texts and gift cards, but aside from that, we didn’t really know what else to do. If you remember, back then, we didn’t even feel safe bringing a meal or doing grocery shopping for ourselves. A few months later, the thought of expanding ways to serve to include acts such as social-distanced babysitting brought up some debates because there were still so many unknowns. Furthermore, there were different transitions as some folks were helping out our new church plant, and I was moving down to San Diego for a year-long residency.

Yet, in retrospect, I believe that my transitioning out of the Team Lead role was honestly the best thing for our first family. I do believe that God never needs you. He simply invites you into His plans and it is for your good. As I stepped out of the Support Friend Team Lead role, I saw just how much God didn’t need me because the new lead, a mother of three and a support friend, not only took the lead, but she enhanced and beautified it.

She sent out monthly, clear emails that shared updates and ways we could serve. She gently pushed back if our suggestions (such as zoom dates during a time where the kids were inundated with screens) were not the most helpful. Personally, she and her girls would create crafting kits to drop off at our Foster Family’s house and came up with other creative ways to support the family. Although I knew that her family was also experiencing the brunt of the pandemic, she exuded so much grace, hospitality, creativity, and love during a time when it would have been easy (and understandable) if she decided to retreat.

I also think about our other support friend group that actually formed after the shelter-in-place began. Without ever meeting the family they were serving, they began to efficiently meet her material needs using Google spreadsheets. At first, I was a little shocked at the generosity. I wondered about the sustainability — we recommend one big touch and one small touch a month for a reason. Then, I realized that in this moment, that team was ready and willing, and the family they were serving had their very unique circumstances as well (a single mother with two babies). God brought them to us for a reason because He knew what we could do.

This past year and a half has not been easy for anyone. The thought of taking even just 30-60 minutes a month to touch base or send out an email seems simple on paper, but the will to actually do so required so much! Yet once I did, I was the one who was blessed. I got to hear the small wins and testimonies, the ways that we were able to be God’s hands and feet. And, keeping our eyes on Christ and His glory, I was able to glimpse my fellow brothers’ and sisters’ being transformed into that “same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). My prayers for you is that in reading this, you would feel encouraged to go ahead and send that text, or make that phone call; and that you would find strength in knowing that our finite resources and capacity for love are made infinite through God’s power and His unconditional love.

Junia Kim

Categories
Blog

Our Journey to “Yes”

I remember learning in high school that there were so many children who were given up and needed families – either because their mother was too young or unable to care for them, their family was poor and had no way to support them or they were simply unwanted.  I came to the conclusion that if I were to have a family, I wanted to care for someone who is already here and needed a loving family.

My husband and I met at our church’s Young Adult group.  He had been adopted when he was 15 months old.  As we discussed marriage, he also did not have a desire to birth our own children.  We married in our late 20’s and were very busy with our careers.  He had his own business and I worked for a large corporation.  Time went by quickly.

About ten years ago, we started taking steps to share the blessings God had provided us with those children and youth who needed families and homes.  We had an extra bedroom, means, and love to share.  We heard about a group at another church which was exploring how churches could support homeless/foster youths who were graduating from high school.  The staff from the Mount Diablo School District, who worked with this population, was invited to come to our meeting to share information and help us with our goal.

After that meeting, we met with Mount Diablo School District Staff, another couple, and two foster youth to discuss more about how we might help those who were graduating and needed homes.  That year, everyone was placed.  One year later, we got a call from the Mount Diablo Staff that they had three siblings who had been living in their car with their Dad.  Their Dad had died suddenly and they needed a home.  We moved the two girls into our extra room, and my husband made part of our family room into a bedroom for the boy.  These were good kids that through no fault of their own, needed a loving family.  We helped the oldest girl through Vet Tech school, and were blessed to celebrate the youngest’s sixteenth birthday in our home.  That was our first experience with foster care.

Over the years, another sister in Christ and I used to talk about our mutual interest in foster care and our heart for these vulnerable children.  Through a Christian business group called Barnabas, we heard about a wonderful organization called Foster the City.  We learned that in Contra Costa County there are about 1000 children in foster care, and roughly 30 percent of them need to be placed out of county due to lack of available homes.  We were inspired by Foster the City’s dream to have a waiting list of families, rather than a waiting list of children.

We quickly decided to become advocates for this cause and our church leadership approved for us to become a FTC partner church.  When we became a partner church, we were not aware of any families in our church with foster children.  In less than a year, we had four families in various stages of becoming or considering becoming foster parents, and one family with a placement.  We also trained 8 support friends.  This was truly exciting to see God moving in our church!

That one family with a placement was us.  I had already retired from my corporate position and my husband had finished building our new house.  We had even more room to share, and time to give!  We went through the Resource Parent training, and requested a youth in the 16-21 category.  We knew that could be a difficult, yet rewarding time of life.  We trusted God to lead and protect us all.

Shortly after we were certified, we got a call that they had a 15-year old youth who needed placement.  We met with him, his current care giver, and the Social Workers at a park just to see how we clicked (or not).  He has been part of our family now for over seven months. He is an amazing kid and we have been so blessed.  He plays sports and wants to go to college.  It has been a challenge learning how to relate, discipline, and care for a youth we have not raised from birth.  We have had to work on becoming a family, learn how to develop and enforce expectations, share our values and our faith, and ensure we were always loving, respectful, and approachable.  Our support friends are a God-send.  They pray for us, supply meals twice a month and really help lighten the load.  It is a great model.

In our retirement years, there are many ways we could spend our time and money, but none more worthy and rewarding than pouring our lives into caring for the vulnerable and orphaned. We may not be able to change the world for everyone, but we are changing the world for this someone.

1 Cor. 15:58  Be strong and immovable.  Always work enthusiastically for the Lord. For you know that anything you do for the Lord is never useless.

Jan Gordon

Categories
Blog

You don’t have to be married to be obedient…

“You don’t have to be married to be obedient”… 

I let these words wash over me the morning of my twenty-ninth birthday last year, just two months before the lockdown started. I knew exactly what these words meant, and I was met with anticipation, confusion, excitement, and a little bit of frustration, all at the same time.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a mom. When playing “house” with my siblings or friends, I always took on that role. Maybe it was my oldest child personality or strong “leadership” skills that consistently wanted me to be in charge. Let’s be real, I was bossy. But that was one thing I was certain of: children were meant to be part of my future family. There was no world or reality where that wasn’t going to be the case.

I remember finishing out college and the majority of my friends were getting married left and right. It felt like my weekends were spent driving or flying to a different city, preparing to celebrate another couple near and dear to my heart. In a five year span, I attended thirty-two weddings. Yes, you read that correctly. I watched these friends start their families with ease and I wondered why that wasn’t my story. I spent a lot of my twenties frustrated and confused, wondering why the Lord seemed endlessly silent on this topic. It felt like it didn’t matter how often I was praying or how honest I was in those conversations with Jesus; it appeared to always be met with radio silence.

On the morning of that birthday, I took the day off work and met my best friend for breakfast. If this isn’t something you’re already doing, I highly recommend it. I sat in a booth, at an empty restaurant in Campbell at 9am, and poured my heart out to this trusted confidant. She earnestly and graciously sat with me through my tears and pain. Part way through that conversation, it felt like time had briefly stopped. You know those moments in movies where the camera shows everyone frozen but the person can move and speak outside of time and space? That’s how this moment felt, for just a brief second. In that moment, I felt these words cover me like a giant blanket: “You don’t have to be married to be obedient…”

Believe me, this wasn’t what I was expecting. I was thoroughly enjoying my eggs and potatoes, and it felt like someone rubbed salt into a wound I wasn’t ready to reopen, especially on my birthday. Not only was I being reminded that I was still single, I also hadn’t been obedient. Ouch. I shared these words and instantaneous thoughts and it felt like something shifted in the atmosphere around us. As we began dissecting this, the conversation inevitably came back to foster care.

In conversations about my future family, foster care was always a non-negotiable for me. Call it what you will, but that’s what the Lord has called me to. For me, the gospel has always been so clear about opening our homes and caring “for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). I just always thought this was something I’d be starting and doing alongside a husband. Now, hear me when I say this: there is nothing wrong with raising kids independently. I have friends who are single parents and their stamina, grace, and dedication blow me away. It’s just that in my idyllic painted picture, I always envisioned that journey with a partner.

After I managed to wipe away a good amount of the tears from my eyes, with a restaurant napkin not meant for tears, I found myself looking through Foster the City’s website. Their vision and heart for foster youth was something that gripped my soul deeply. I remember thinking “I’m already on board”, which was convenient since there was an interest meeting just two weeks from that date. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, I created space to pray, ponder, and chat with trusted friends about what I was about to embark on. I asked them to pray with me, for me, and provide their most honest feedback. I was continually met with “wow, yes you should”.

As I walked through the doors into this meeting, alongside the same trusted friend, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We found a spot at a table in the very front, which definitely isn’t my jam, and people from the stage began to speak. Staggering statistics, an undeniable vision, and a very clear call to action was set before me. For me, the call was even more clear after that night.

I want to get back to that initial prompting: “you don’t have to be married to be obedient”. These words run through my head often. Sure, it’s a gentle reminder about where I’m at, which didn’t feel great at first; but over the last thirteen months, it’s shifted my focus. It has pulled my gaze off of myself and to the grandness of our God. He’s been reminding me, “hey, I have this plan for you. Will you step into it with me?”, and that’s something I can’t ignore. And neither should you.

So, regardless of where you’re at in terms of life stage, family, schooling, parenting, etc… the reminder is we still need to be obedient. I’ll be the first to admit that this journey hasn’t been the easiest. I’ve been met with obstacles, difficult conversations, and preparation for what’s to come in my journey with foster care, but God’s calling and invitation still stands. I challenge you, friend, to walk in faith and obedience, because I know one thing is for sure: God is always worth it. 

Nicole Presley

Categories
Blog

Build the Bed

IKEA holds a unique spot in my heart. It has never failed to offer me a furniture or home goods solution that both met my needs and fit my budget. In fact, I think IKEA could provide a unique framework for pre-marital counseling. The betrothed couple could be required to plan, design, furnish, and decorate their new shared bedroom solely with products from IKEA. Counseling sessions would be structured throughout the process, and the couple would have a chance to practice everything from budgeting to compromise to forgiveness. (Lots and lots of forgiveness if my marriage’s history with IKEA is any indication.)

Now that I’m a foster parent, IKEA is practically my fifth Support Friend. Need a bed? IKEA’s got it. Need another set of sheets? IKEA’s got them. Need a fluffy, soft stuffed animal? IKEA’s even got those!

I promise this isn’t an advertisement for IKEA. The store is simply on my mind, because I just finished building another bed in our home.

A few days ago, we got a call we didn’t expect – a young man that we care about had been placed in foster care. He’s outside of our expected age range, and, even though we had space in our home, we didn’t have a proper bed. Without hesitation, I donned a face mask and drove to Palo Alto.

I walked through that massive warehouse and prayed for this young man. He was no longer a nameless, faceless foster youth. He wasn’t an ambiguous anecdote or a harrowing statistic. He was a teenager who appears in my Google photos. He was a young man that I’ve known for more than a year. He was a boy sitting in a “welcome center” waiting for a family to say, “Welcome home.”

Over the past several years, we’ve received placement calls for every age range: newborn, toddler, preschooler, elementary student, pre-teen, and now, teenager.

Every time we’ve accepted a placement in a new age range, I’ve built a new bed: cribs, toddler beds, twin beds, bunk beds, and now, a sturdy bed for a boy who is becoming a man.

I haven’t yet discovered how to cure the ills that make foster care necessary, but I have figured out how to read IKEA instructions.

So as long as a child needs a safe place to lay their head, I will continue to build the bed.

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

God, give us the courage to build the beds. Instill in us a holy spirit of hospitality. Create in our homes safe spaces for children to heal and grow. Create in our communities safe spaces for families to recover and reunify. Give us the ability to bear one another’s burdens and offer each other rest. Give us the humility to rely solely on you in these efforts and to give you all the glory for the results. Amen.

Erin O’Roarke

Categories
Blog

A Unique Opportunity

In our experience, all bets are off on court days because there’s no way to know just how long you’ll be there or what the outcomes will be.

There are days where we’ve arranged the child care, packed the snacks, and had time to drink our coffee in preparation for a long day at court, but end up being in and out within an hour. These kind of court days usually mean that there is no movement in our foster child’s case.

My favorite court days are when my husband works from home to be with the kids because I can fully focus on our foster child’s biological family. Getting to connect with our foster child’s parents and family members without the kids running around at our feet is rare and really special. I love to listen to grandma share stories about when our foster son’s mom was little. I love to listen to mom and dad share their wins. They are so excited to share their wins. Dad signed up for an extra parenting class. Mom finished her first rehab program. I love that grandpa leaned in and whispered to me what he really thinks of the new social worker. The book I brought for the wait is not going come out of my bag and I’m ok with that because I love listening to and learning about these people in front of me. On these days it doesn’t really matter what happens in the court room.

Then there’s the trial. The trial is grueling. I remember holding back tears as I tapped as many notes as I could into my phone. I remember the way my face grew hot as the different players laid out the details of what our foster children had been through, what their parents had done, and what the county was currently doing. I remember thinking that there was no way I could ever look our foster children’s parents in the eyes again. But then it was over and as mom turned around we locked eyes. My heart instantaneously flooded with love and compassion for her. We both knew that what happened in the court room that day was going to change both of our lives forever.

Court hearings can be taxing but they also present such a unique opportunity to get to learn from and learn about the people that you are walking out this foster care journey with. And I’d encourage you to take that opportunity.

Anna F.

Categories
Blog

Cultivating Cultural & Racial Awareness

She was done writing up her Christmas wish list and was telling me about a dress she wanted. She proceeded to show me a picture of a big, puffy, extravagant dress for her Quinceañera party. Mind you, she’s 12 and this was the first we were hearing about this party that we’re apparently throwing her when she turns 15. However, hearing her dream up about celebrating this future rite of passage while under our care was a clear reminder that our foster daughter feels at home with us and that throwing her a Quinceañera party would be yet another way we can honor her culture and heritage.

We’ve all heard that representation matters, and it really does. It matters for people of color to feel seen, heard, and known by others, to see ourselves represented in different forms of media and creative expression. But what about feeling represented and known within our own families? What does that look like when you’ve been taken away from all that is familiar to you and forced to live with strangers who more than likely have a different cultural and racial heritage than your own?

It’s no surprise that there is racial and cultural disparity in foster care. Research and statistics show that foster care disproportionately affects communities of color and can be said to be deeply rooted in the systemic oppression and racism that has plagued the United States for so long. Obviously, there isn’t anything we can do as foster parents to change the past for this broken system, but we do get to play an important role in changing its future. We get to invest in the lives of future generations, and that is not something to take lightly. One very important way we get to do this is by raising children who are confident in their racial and cultural identity, especially when their heritage is different from our own. It can be argued that foster youth would benefit more from being placed with families that share their racial and cultural heritage, and although there is some truth to that, I believe children ultimately benefit from being placed in loving & caring homes with families that are willing to do the hard work, whether or not they share the same skin color.

Foster youth deal with and experience more trauma, repeated environment changes, and lower levels of social well being than most people. Research shows that a strong cultural identity contributes to “mental health resilience, higher levels of social well-being, and improved coping skills, among other benefits”(Supporting Cultural Identity for Children in Foster Care by Ariella Hope Stafanson). So how can we as foster parents help support strong cultural identity in our foster youth? The following is by no means an extensive list of how we can accomplish this, but merely some friendly suggestions that have surfaced from my years as an immigrant in this country in my formative adult years as well as the 2.5+ year journey in training and becoming a foster parent.

Learn about their heritage and share yours.
Ask questions and listen to their stories. Yes, memories can sometimes bring up emotions and wounds, but ultimately we have found them to be very helpful in bonding and creating healthy attachments.

Be genuinely interested in what they have to say, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

Our current foster daughter grew up in a Mexican home, and although I’m Latinx myself, our culture and upbringing are/were very different. I like to ask questions about how her family would do things, and my husband and I share stories about our own upbringings as well.

Incorporate their traditions into your home

Sometimes it could be as simple as learning to cook their favorite meal that a family member used to make or making sure that at least once a week you eat something from their culture or family.

My husband, Jayson, is the cook in our home. One of our conversations with our foster daughter was about comfort food and from there, she began to share a dish that her grandmother used to make: sopa de frijoles (bean soup). Jayson took it upon himself to research the ingredients to see if he could make it. Our daughter got very emotional when he told her he would make the soup, as it brought up lots of great memories of her family of origin. Jayson made sure to say that he might not make it like her grandmother, but he would do his best. Our daughter asked if they could make it together because that is what her family did. The soup was really good, according to our daughter.

Pictures speak a thousand words

We tell our kids that as long as they are in our home, they are part of the family. Incorporating their family & traditions could be as simple as hanging pictures from their childhood around your home. This is also a small way to increase that attachment with your youth. We love displaying photos of our kids, whether it’s ones we’ve taken during their time with us or even from their childhood. Recently, our daughter gave us baby and toddler pictures of her. Some of them had her family of origin in them and we chose to hang them in our home to make her feel like all of her is welcome here.

Give them access to their culture

Do our kids have opportunities to hear their language spoken and their music played? Can they attend or participate in cultural holidays? Are they exposed to or allowed to wear cultural dress? Eat their culture’s food? Do they have opportunities to spend time with people that look like them or share their culture?

Hopefully, we can all work towards being able to answer YES to all of these questions. Embracing and loving who they are includes their culture as well.

Do the hard work

Take this as an opportunity for continued personal growth. It starts with us.

If you haven’t already, take cultural awareness training. My husband and I found it to be very helpful and educational.
Examine your own privileges and prejudices. How did these affect you growing up, and how are they affecting you today? The self introspection is hard, but we owe it to our kids to not only model it, but to continuously grow from it.

Doing all this honors God. He wants us to grow and extend who we bring to our metaphoric and literal tables. He challenges us to step out of our comfort zone, because a lot of times He calls us to do hard things, which at the end- are the BEST things.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back, lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Isaiah 54:2

Brenda Aguilar Rice

Categories
Blog

From One Youth to Another

“If your own mother can’t love you, how do you expect anyone else to?”

These words pierced the heart of a young boy as he devastatingly watched his mother walk out on him. This tragedy only added to the trauma of abuse the boy had already experienced in his short life. He had never felt more alone.

Lonely in his new world, the boy entered foster care. Unfortunately, he bounced from home to home. Nine different times to be exact, and he didn’t have the best experiences in most of his foster homes. He was told he was only there because they needed money, and he was often differentiated from the biological children in the house. Finally, he made it to his last home, where he met the *Johnsons. At first, this was just another foster home to him. He was guarded, he was angry, and he did not, would not, trust anyone. You see, the Johnson’s had been foster parents for almost 37 years and had cared for roughly 800 youth (majority teenagers) in their home. The boy thought to himself that he would just be another number they could add to their “goody-two-shoes list”.

Although he often acted out, the boy noticed these people were different –  their love seemed genuine. It was through these foster parents that he was introduced to church. As a devoted Christian, every morning he would see and hear his foster mother praying for him. She would ask God, “If today is the day, please let him find you.” This experience of true and genuine love started to break down the walls this boy had built to protect himself. He became more vulnerable and open to people. To this day, he calls them Mama & Papa (Grandparents).

Through his foster parents, the boy met a family at church: the *Andersons. They took him under their wing. He would go over to their house often and eventually, they became family. Even though they were not able to become his legal parents, his brother said, “We don’t need a piece of paper. Last name or not, he is one of us, this is my brother.” This profound statement, along with the act of taking him in, turned this boy’s world upside down. He was verbally “adopted”. Not only did they make him feel like he belonged, but they also extended an invitation to his biological sisters. Instead of leaving one family behind, this allowed him to create a new family.

After four years of attending church, gathering knowledge of Jesus, and changing bad habits, the boy realized he needed a relationship with Jesus. He knew things about Him, but he did not know Him. He accepted Christ in his heart, and his life was forever changed.

Suffering allows one to perceive life in a way others can’t. Suffering allows one to see the power of Christ through circumstances.

This boy’s story is an illustration of God’s perfect sovereignty and provision. I know this because I lived his life. I was this boy. This is my story and the story isn’t over.

After emancipating at the age of 18, I began to feel a stirring in my heart… a calling to be a foster parent. I also remember asking God to allow me to work for a company that helps the faith community take in foster children. Although that calling to be a foster parent never left, as the years went by I totally forgot about this “ask” I had requested of God. Twelve years later, I was offered to join the staff at Foster the City. Before making a decision, I asked God for guidance and He gently reminded me, ”Remember what you asked for all those years ago”. At first, I was blown away that the Spirit of God remembered what I had asked, but I then recalled someone once told me that God exists beyond time and space. He is able to recall such things. Well, either that or He has a really great memory!

Years later I began dating the woman who would become my wife. Early on in our relationship, I opened up to her about my calling. I basically said, “If you don’t want to be a foster parent in the future, then we need to end this now.” Let’s just say, she passed the test. Shortly after we were married, we began the application process and we chose to go through an FFA that serves youth that requires extra care between the ages of 5 to 21 years old. A year and a half went by until we were finally approved. We were so thrilled and I remember wanting (and asking God) to have a youth in our home for Christmas (my favorite holiday).

We got a call for a sixteen-year-old teenage girl who had a lot of history. We said yes to *Jessica knowing it may be a difficult transition. I mean we went from having no kids to caring for a sixteen-year-old girl! Jessica nervously walked into our home and began to adjust to her new environment. The first night, as Jessica was going to bed, she came to the living room and asked, “I have a question. I know I’m sixteen and this may sound weird, but can one of you guys read me a bedtime story because it makes me feel safe.” Before I explain why this request was significant, let me back up for a second…

During our pre-approval phase, my wife was struggling with the idea of taking in teenagers because, since we don’t have biological children, we would be missing out on the earlier stages of their lives. One of my wife’s greatest desires as a parent has been reading to her kids at night, and being able to share a love for reading and storytelling. She gave it all to God and trusted in His plan for us and our family.

Going back to that night, you can see how that simple request from Jessica meant the world to my wife and she didn’t hesitate to say “I’d love to read to you.” That night as I heard my wife reading, I remember thanking God for hearing and answering her prayer. When she came to bed, I reminded her that God hears us, sees us, and often answers us in unique ways.

Our experience with Jessica has reminded me so much of my own experience as a foster youth. At the same time, however, it has helped me remember that each story is different and unique. My experience has helped me connect with her and understand some general concepts of why she does things or why she thinks a certain way. When I told Jessica I was a former foster child, her face seemed both confused and surprised. With confusion and sass, she asked, “And why do you want to be a foster parent?” At the time I didn’t have an answer for her, but I think I do now.

I’ve always loved Isaiah 1:17 (NIV): “Do right, seek justice. Defend the oppressed and take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” I believe this is what Jesus has done for us. He stepped into our lives to do right, to bring healing and justice. He defended and took the case of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the hurting. It took years for me to realize what God had done for me and through me. I knew something was different about the Johnsons. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back now, their love for Jesus was evident. I believe it was that love for Jesus that helped them see me and care for me in a way that no other family had done before. I look at the Anderson family as well, and their choice to love me and bring me into their family brought so much positive change into my life.

So why do I want to be a foster parent? Because it is one of the ways I can reflect the image of Jesus to children and youth in need. Being a foster parent is stepping into a broken system and into broken lives while being an advocate and a vessel of healing. I want others to experience the restorative and healing power of Jesus that can come through the love of a family.

Note: *Names have been changed for people’s privacy