We were sitting on the edge of our seats. Our hearts were beating a little faster by the minute.
We exchanged nervous smiles. I had rehearsed what I was going to say…in the car, in the mirror, during my evening walks. Still, I had a checklist to make sure I didn’t forget anything.
Finally, I sat back in my chair.
To my surprise, so did they. That’s when I realized the family depended on me.
Humbled by their trust, I began certifying my first family.
23 years and over 500 families later, my role as a Foster Family Certifications Director remains steadily rooted in my first visit with that family. I wasn’t prepared to lead. Who was I that a family would welcome me, a perfect stranger, into their story?
Stories often told of heartbreaking infertility, broken childhoods, and plans that did not unfold as dreamed.
So much pain met with so much courage. How could I lead these families whom I viewed as heroic?
Nudged Into Action
I prayed. A lot. Sometimes I felt immobilized by the awesome responsibility of guiding a family from the call in their hearts to the ministry of foster parenting. But then God, who made me for this, started crafting my heart in a way that nudged me from immobility to action.
He showed me the faces of the children I met early in my career when I worked at a home where children lived after being removed from their families.
I remembered rocking Katie, who was prone to kicking and biting her way through night terrors. And pictured Dustin, hiding in his closet after a very tough day. I replayed the afternoons I picked up Natalie from school. Over time, I was watching her change from an anxious child to a tenacious girl who waited for me with confident expectation. Enthusiastic waves and a smile told her story.
Seeing their faces changed the way I looked at foster families. When families told me their stories, I told them my stories about long nights holding a warm bottle and an exhausted toddler. I told them about sitting in a closet with a boy whose mama didn’t show up to see him.
I only certified the families that I could imagine would love those kids on their hardest days.
This Won’t Surprise You
Maybe your heart has already been tugged, so this won’t surprise you. When you sign up to be a foster family, there is a lot to remember. Paperwork to submit, training sessions to attend, changes to make around the house. It makes perfect sense that what felt energizing at one point feels paralyzing at another. Almost every family is faced with a moment of discouragement as they walked through the certification process.
When they lose steam, I encourage families by reminding them, as hard as they find the certification process, our children go through so much more. Every form they turn in, every training they attend, every interview they complete, moves them one day closer to welcoming a child home.
What I am Still Learning
The crafting the Lord started in my heart 23 years ago hasn’t stopped. Every family carries an image of God that I can only see by listening to their story.
As I’ve gotten older, God has gotten bigger and more compassionate and more forgiving.
Here is what I’m still learning:
- Mistakes are made, even by someone with a degree after her name. I know I had a steep learning curve. In my early days, I felt compelled to find “perfect” families. Now I know, imperfect families are healthier than perfect families.
- Just because something seems too hard for me doesn’t mean it is too hard for you. Being a foster parent is a higher calling. A professional can prepare you for certification, but the Lord equips you for each child.
- The ministry of foster care is an intimate experience between you and the Lord. Sometimes the experts have to get out of the way so the Lord can show you something, by the way, He parts the sea.
- Suggesting every story ends happily is a disservice. Foster parenting is sanctifying. It’s hard, messy, and beautiful, and it reconciles us to the Lord repeatedly. It can be painful and still be good.
- Preparing you and writing a home study that will be selected is our priority and commitment.
You may be asked to meet with a counselor or read a book that you weren’t expecting. If you want your home study to highlight your compassion and commitment, do what is recommended.
Our Vocation is the Love of Jesus
When I look back and consider the homes in which I have sat, I’m astonished. I meet families who don’t have to place their lives on the altar, but they do. They don’t have to open their doors to trauma, but they do. It is a privilege to be part of their stories.
Mother Teresa was once asked about her work with the poor.
She said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”
After all these years of working in foster care, how can I do anything else? My only job is to love the Lord. I cannot imagine doing this work without Him.