In our yard is a huge oak tree, its branches shading the sandy dirt underneath. Under the tree, a collection of spoons and cups pilfered from my kitchen litters the ground. My six-year-old daughter is the queen of mud pie production, and she takes it on herself to teach our foster children the craft.
The little children who come to our house learn what it means to be part of a family again. They play with new kittens, eat vegetables, and take naps. They learn to make blanket forts and how to put their shoes on the right feet. They have a drawer full of clean clothes and a bed to call their own. They sit blanket-wrapped and warm on Will’s lap and listen to stories. These things are normal for us, but new for them.
Somehow, people have the idea that doing foster care is for a few odd and saintly people who have received God’s rare stamp of approval and calling.
I’m here to tell you that our family does foster care, and we are ordinary people.
We get tired and impatient and grouchy just like anyone else. Sometimes we don’t feel like loving traumatized little people. My children get jealous of the constant neediness, they resent the interruptions to our schedule, and most of all they hate the sound of incessant crying.
When I rock a screaming child night after night after night, I sometimes feel the edges of my soul unraveling. I’m not strong enough to do this, I think, handing off the baby to my husband while I go to my room to shed a few tears of my own. I can’t do foster care.
Yet I can, I’ve learned. We can. Ordinary families can do foster care. Regular people like us find grace to love in ways we never knew were possible.
And this is why it matters: The world is going crazy debating things like the refugee crisis and children being separated from their parents at the US border. Politics has the upper hand over morality; for many people, supporting the right political group is more important than simply caring about the children.
I have cried over those children and been stomped on while defending them. Once I wrote a criticism of the church’s response to the refugee crisis. But in reality, I can’t do much about children in Syria or Mexico.
However, in the United States we have little children who lost their families. We have our own refugee crisis–a foster care system bulging with lonely children. And this is a crisis we absolutely can and should do something about.
We can stop arguing about politics and get busy. To do this, we can’t assume that taking care of foster children is a job for someone else more qualified or called. Some of us can give the kids a home. Others can offer much-needed support to foster families. Everyone can play some part. We don’t have to be spectacular; we only need to hear and answer the children’s cry.
Many nights I hold my little girl while she weeps, her damp hair against my cheek and her grieving tears on my neck. Her mind is too young to remember, but her body remembers.
I coach her through overcoming her fears, and she finds a calming rhythm in our ordinary life.
When she returns sad-faced from visits with her biological parents, she seeks her rhythm. She runs to the house clutching the greasy fast-food bag she brought home. Pulling out cold chicken nuggets and French fries, she asks me to warm her food on a plate. Then holding her arms up to me, she climbs on my lap and whimpers “feed me, mama.”
With food comes a quickening, and her world rights itself temporarily. She knows later there will be a bath, pink Minnie mouse pajamas, and cuddles and tears again. She will want her favorite blanket, the one with a big bird on it, with the bird positioned right over her heart. She will ask me the same hard questions that she asks every night: will I see my other daddy next week? Are you going to be home tomorrow? Will you stay right here?
Yes child, this ordinary mama will stay right here.
But for now she is full, and climbs down off my lap to look for her kid-sized plastic bucket and spoon. We go outside, and she toddles to the hydrant where I fill her pail with water. She runs to the oak tree, squats into the soft dirt, and starts pouring and mixing and stirring. Before long, several other children join her, hands and feet and faces turning brown.
She has had a traumatic day, but for a moment she feels completely safe and loved in this ordinary family. She is at peace. Dipping her spoon into the dirt, she begins to heal, making mud pies under the spreading oak tree.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…
And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
Matthew 25:35,40 (ESV)