So there was a slight gap in my blog-posting schedule. Four months, to be exact. This gap coincides with the arrival of our first foster child, who is now, you guessed it, four months old. This has been an amazing journey, but one that leaves little time for much else. As I got back into blogging, how could I not share my experience?
This is the first in a five-part series exploring the ins-and-outs of fostering and adoption. But first, let me offer this disclaimer: Everything here is from my perspective. Things I mention may not be applicable or true in a different state – or even a different county. If you’re curious about any of this, please contact a local foster/adoption agency to get more information. The website AdoptUSKids.org is a great resource to get started.
With that, let’s start at the beginning…
The unexplained call to adopt
Way back when my wife and I first started dating, she told me that she had dreams of adopting children some day. I said, “How about we have a few of our own and see how we feel.” The prospect of adopting didn’t appeal to me at all. I could list a thousand reasons why I didn’t want to adopt. 1) Having children of any sort was really scary. 2) Kids “in the system” felt like someone else’s problem. 3) I didn’t think I had enough energy to be a dad; I could probably survive having a couple of them biologically, but why would I shop for more that weren’t mine? Reasons 4 through 1,000 were pretty much in that same vein. Basically, adopting seemed like an extra, unnecessary, complicated step.
Everything changed for me eight years later. About six months after my wife and I had our first child, I started feeling this gravitational pull. In the span of a few weeks, I was exposed to dozens and dozens of stories about foster kids, adoptions and blended families. It was like I was the center of this adoption-story vortex. I couldn’t walk out my door without stepping in a story about a family who opened their home to a child or a story about the growing opioid crisis splitting families apart. The dam broke on October 17, 2017.
We were attending a special service at our church. My six-month-old was getting fussy, so my wife left the sanctuary to tend to her, leaving me in the pew by myself. As the service went on, a visiting pastor shared this story about this boy in his home church who was living in extreme poverty. The pastor walked us through how he realized that this boy was meant to be a part of their family. As he spoke, I felt the world around me fall away, a single spotlight shined right on my face. I was no longer in a congregation with 200 people. I was in a dark room with just God. In that moment, my mind and heart were open to what He’d been trying to tell me for a long, long time: He was calling me to adopt.
And this is why I refer to this as my dam-breaking moment. Literally, the dam that keeps all my facial fluids inside my head broke. I cried more during that service than I can describe. It was like I was watching The Notebook while cutting onions while getting my back waxed. If you’re ever wondering how to know if God’s talking to you, that’s it.
That night, I told my wife that God spoke to me but I wasn’t ready to talk about it. That’s an ominous, scary thing to hear from your spouse, but she was graceful about it. After some time, I gained my composure and explained to her (through a fresh set of tears, mind you) that God wanted us to open our house and family to a child that needed a home. She let the news sink in and then went on to explain the ways God had spoken to her those past few weeks. She too was in a swirling vortex of adoption stories and was finding herself increasingly more emotionally affected by them. Just a day earlier, she was brought to tears watching a video on Facebook about adoption.
God speaks to us in unique ways. He spoon fed my wife her entire life, gently coaxing her heart and spirit to long for an adopted child. He slapped me in the face with it.
Truly seeing the need for the first time
If our life was a movie, this would be the point in the story where you see a montage of Google searches set to Kanye West’s song “Only One.”
Through research, we came to realize that our path to adoption would be through the foster care system. I learned that Ohio, like almost every other state, is in a foster care crisis. As reported last year, more kids are entering the foster system than ever before. In just 2018 alone, 16,154 kids across Ohio were placed in foster homes, an increase of 28 percent from five years ago. This number isn’t going down. We read an article from a city not too far away that reported there were more babies being born each day than they have homes available.
Let that sink in.
Babies are being born each day that don’t have a home.
As I said, my daughter was six-months-old at the time. Just earlier that day, we were playing on the bed. She was being silly and we were laughing a lot. Because of her home, my daughter could just be a kid. She has parents that love her and keep her safe. There are kids in this world – within driving distance – that are her same age without that. There are kids that get left alone for days without eating. Kids who suffer abuse, physical and emotional. There are kids that don’t know what it’s like to have parents that love them.
Again, let that sink in.
All these kids need is a safe home
My eyes were finally opened to the reality of what it meant to foster/adopt, which also made me realize I was only ever concerned with how adoption would affect me. Things like, it would be hard. I’d be tired. I’d have to add one more thing to my busy schedule. I’d probably end up with a bad kid. I had never once thought about the child, only me.
The day after the dam broke, my emotions cooled down, which was fortunate because I had to leave on a business trip with my boss. That entire morning, I was kind of laughing about how much I cried the day before. So silly. We made a stop to let my boss take a call in the business center of a hotel. While she did that, I sat in the lobby to do some work on my computer. The Today Show was playing on the TV beside me.
They ran a story (below) about a family that adopted some children with special needs. As I sat in that seat, working on my laptop, watching the TV, I couldn’t contain the huge crocodile tears. That stupid segment put me into full ugly cry mode and I couldn’t recover. I knew my boss was going to walk back in the room and see me in a puddle of tears. So yeah. Apparently, I was still in the vortex. Luckily the story on TV ended and I was released from the emotional turmoil enough to settle back down before my boss walked back in the room.
The takeaway from that story was simple. There was a child that felt unloved and worthless until some parents took him in. That’s a side of the story I never knew. Of course I knew about poverty divides, but I never really considered how fortunate I was that I grew up with a mother whose lap I could crawl into at the end of the day, or a father who would protect me. That story on Today was yet another way adoption was personified for me along my spiritual journey.
I used to have all these misconceptions. I thought that children in the system were damaged and difficult. Makes sense, right? One look at any adoption photo listings will show you that these kids really are normal, average children. They dream of becoming doctors and engineers. They love playing sports or drawing. They are exactly like any other child, with one exception: they don’t have a forever family. Many of these children don’t have laps they can cuddle into. Many don’t have parents that stand up for them. Many don’t have families that love them unconditionally.
Giving what we take for granted
These kids didn’t choose this life. They’re in the system through no fault of their own, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. They’re shuffled from home to home, experiencing traumas we’ll never understand because of decisions made by adults in their lives. Shelter, stability, unconditional love; we take these for granted because we’ve never lived without them.
Kids in the foster care system don’t have any of what we have in abundance. That was the catalyst for my permanent shift in perspective. My wife and I took a look at our current family and started to appreciate – for the first time – how much we really have to offer. We had an extra bedroom. We had the ability to keep a human being alive by feeding and clothing him/her. Most of all, we had enough room in our heart to care about a child that didn’t grow in my wife’s womb for nine months.
The qualifications to become a foster parent really aren’t that stringent.
Following God’s direction
Our journey had officially begun. That was in October of 2017. By January 2019, we welcomed a newborn foster placement into our family. The trip from point A to point B was fascinating. While going through the foster process, I also trained to become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to represent children going through displacement and custody proceedings. All of this exposure helped me appreciate the child welfare system in a whole new light.
Yes, some foster placements are difficult, and the process can be frustrating, but let me leave you with this short film. It provides an powerful look at what children go through when they’re displaced from their homes. Please take the next 12 minutes to watch. You’ll see what a loving, caring environment can do for a child who’s never had one.
As mentioned, this is the first in a series exploring the child welfare system through my personal experience. If you feel even the slightest pull to foster or adopt, hopefully I can bring clarity and peace to that feeling.
What’s next in the “All About Fostering” series:
- Part 2: Questions about fostering you were afraid to ask
- Part 3: Myths about fostering you probably believe
- Part 4: Getting Ready for a Foster Placement
- June 18 – “Part 5: How The World Treats Fostering Differently”
For more information on adoption, visit adoptuskids.org.
For more information on fostering, visit childwelfare.gov.
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