A Foster Care Story: When Love Comes With Risks

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I am ashamed to admit that I once wondered if fostering children was worth the risk to my heart.

As my husband, Lincoln, and I confronted the issue of infertility, I couldn’t avoid one question: Was it my goal to grow our family in a way that I preferred, or was it to parent the children that God would give us? Wrestling with that question redirected my thoughts away from an obsession with my body’s refusal to conceive, and to instead consider where God might be leading us – and to whom.

We knew there were children in the world who needed families. Was there a child waiting for us?

We began to explore the possibilities: Domestic or international adoption? Foster care or frozen embryos? The available options felt dizzying, but the mere presence of forward movement – moving toward whatever God had for us – definitely helped. We also had an incredible asset in the form of our tremendously supportive extended family. Both our hearts and our home were ready for children.

And yet … we were nearly 40 years old. Some adoption agencies considered us too old for infant adoption, and international adoption would require us to go into debt or start an aggressive fundraising campaign. Adoption could also be a lengthy process. The prospects seemed daunting, but all the closed doors actually helped us spot the open ones.

It helped that the Lord gave us a little nudge through our pastor. After one particular Sunday morning sermon, both Lincoln and I left the church service with the feeling that God wanted us to walk the path of foster care and adoption. Yes, we were scared; and yes, the risk to our hearts was great. But we prayed and agreed that we would trust God and His leading. There were, of course, no guarantees that we would be able to adopt every child we came to love, but in risking our hearts for someone else, we could glimpse a shadow of God’s powerful love for His children.

“Congratulations!” said the voice over the phone. “You’re a parent.”

This wasn’t how I’d imagined it would be. Details were sparse: I had no idea whether I was the mother of a boy or a girl, and we didn’t know names or even ages yet. But hearing those words still gave my heart a thrill. Our foster parent training was now complete, and two young sisters would soon be coming to live with us.

The girls were 6 and 8, and had already been in foster care for two years. Ours was their fourth foster home, and their current case worker was at least their sixth (they would have two more before leaving foster care).

Lincoln and I might have looked the part of mature parents, but we were absolute rookies. Kid-friendly movies were a mystery (thank goodness for PluggedIn.com!), our collection of age-appropriate toys and games was minimal, and we had much to learn about the girls’ food likes and dislikes. It was an exhausting adventure, and I experienced emotions on a scale I’d never before imagined.

Still, the girls were amazing. They approached their new situation with quiet bravery. They were once again living with a new set of strangers, learning the ropes of another new household and the expectations of another set of parents. They enrolled in another new school, embarked on making new friends all over again, and entered once more into an unknown future over which they had no control.

The girls loved for us to walk them all the way to their school classrooms and even join them for lunch. They invited us to their school parties, and they worried if we were even a minute later than planned. Sometimes their biological parents showed up for scheduled visits, and sometimes they didn’t. Lincoln and I did our best to help them hold the shattered pieces of the lives they’d been handed. In their world – one they’d learned held no guarantees – we were the closest thing they had to an anchor.

I am ashamed to admit that I once wondered if fostering children was worth the risk to my heart. Even before Creation, Jesus knew that the people He loved and came to redeem would still reject Him. As His follower, how could I refuse the risk of loving others? Children in foster care live with that uncertainty every single day. Caring for them – loving them – is sacred work indeed.

Jenny Knowles and her husband, Lincoln, are adoptive parents to two sisters through foster care.

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