Why we’re foster parents: it’s not about us

In December last year – around 4 months ago now – my wife Bev and I became foster parents. Within a short period we went from being a family of two adults and two dogs to two adults, two dogs and two children. The children came to us around the same time, but are biologically unrelated. It was the culmination of a long process of thinking, discussing and praying which I chronicled previously in this blog (links at the end of this post).

It’s an exhausting, exhilarating, life-enhancing, sleep-depriving, money-hoovering, faith-stretching, relationship-testing endeavour. Around the time we began to foster, some kind souls were praying with and for me in the context of a work meeting. One lovely person, in the course of his prayer, said something along the lines of “We thank you, God, for this expression in Dave and Bev of the desire to be parents.”

That sentence stayed with me, in a good way. I have a deep respect for the person who prayed it; he’s an intelligent, thoughtful and kind man. I’ve hardly had a spare moment since that prayer was prayed so couldn’t really give much attention to why the sentence had struck me so deeply. Until last week, when a brutal bout of tonsillitis forced me into bed for a few days; when I wasn’t asleep or watching TV, I could just think. In thinking about that prayed sentence, I began to realise why it had struck me so deeply. In saying what I’m about to say, let me make clear that I’m not criticising at all the dear man who prayed that prayer. There’s no reason for him to know my deepest motivations and drivers. And I’m only speaking for myself (and my wife, Bev); I hold no expectation that the same should be true for others.

The truth is that my wife and I have never really wanted to have children. We never desired to be parents. We have never felt a biological or emotional or spiritual urge to give birth. As far as we can tell, doing this is meeting no need in us. Don’t get me wrong: we love doing it. It brings us great joy; our lives are immeasurably enhanced. We are richer people for having these two children in our care, and we love them deeply. It’s a beautiful thing when one of them leaps into our arms for a cuddle or plays a game with us. But for us, that’s not the goal. All of those things; they’re grace given freely and abundantly by God, to us, through these two beautiful divine image-bearers.

So why do we do it? Because God does it for me, for Bev and for everyone who’ll notice and acknowledge. Though my wife and I, and you, are naturally different and cut off from God, He still makes an active, personal, focussed decision to love us and welcome us into His family. It has cost Him much to enable that to happen; we are welcomed into His bloodline at the expense of that blood itself.

So if God has done this for me, then it’s incumbent on me to do all within my power and ability to help other people realise it. So in our own broken, imperfect, faltering ways, in welcoming two children not of our blood; in making an active, personal, focussed decision to love them, we are saying to them and to others – see this? This is but the palest, limpest, most feeble hint of what God has done for me and for you.

We’ve done it also to militate against our hypocrisy. Bev and I speak, pray and preach a lot about the Christian imperative to justice, to ministry amongst the poor, to serving those with less and opening our homes to people whose homes are gone or broken. Fostering brings those we might label as ‘poor’ out of the charity projects, off the streets and the distant estates and into our home, around our dinner table and gives them almost unfettered access to our bank accounts. I am forced, now, to walk what I talk 24 hours a day.

A final reason, linked to these other two. If these two are true, then it’s our belief  – our conviction – that fostering and adoption should be a more central opportunity for Christians. We believe that it should, for many, be a first option not a fall-back. We believe it may just be one of the key invitations to the church of this era. We’ve been deeply challenged to see people we know – single and married – foster and adopt. My wife was herself adopted, and she knows that through that she was bought to a safe childhood and to life in Christ. So we’d be failing hypocrites if we didn’t at least do the same ourselves.

That, then, is why we foster. We are blessed and privileged to do so. That’s all grace, though. We do it not for the benefits, not out of our own desire; but simply because we can and we believe God would have us do so, as He has done for us.

The story can be found in these posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

 

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Towards Another Future, Part 4

Catch up on the story so far here: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

In one sense an update on this story seems to be long overdue. It’s some months since I last posted about it, and I feel like I owe you some news. In another sense, however, there’s been little to report. There was the initial flurry of thoughts and feelings reflected in the original posts – and then there was little we could do.

First there was our sabbatical – three months abroad – during which the desire for and conviction that we should foster took root and became established as something deeper than a whim. It felt like something right. Obviously whilst away for three months there was little we could do about it. We also needed to address our living arrangements – our previous house had no spare space on it,  and for a while we had no idea where we’d be moving to so we couldn’t make any plans. Then, in what felt like something of a rush, we’d moved house to somewhere bigger. Objectively we’d acknowledged to ourselves that fostering could now be front and centre of our agenda, but we did little about it.

Hence the lack of updates. It’s hard to update when there’s little to say. Then, a couple of speculative conversations last week later, and we find ourselves with some concrete possibilities. Actual children we need to think about. We find ourselves in a space where we need to discern whether to move forward with discussions about this child. Suddenly the future has a possible face and name.

It feels strange to have moved from the conscious disempowerment of which I spoke in a previous post to a position of unmerited power: is this child going to be part of our future, for however long? Even with speculative conversations it feels a little cruel, even though at this stages the children concerned know nothing of even the possibility. We’re talking about talking, and even at this stage it feels like one almighty responsiblity. We don’t know how long this phase will last, how many of these possibilities we’ll weigh up until we move further forward. But we have moved forward, and the future is more tangible.

I’ll post more as and when I’m able to in this public forum.

So many plans …

So many plans.

Was going to take time out from everything on sabbatical. Space to read, think, pray, reflect, decide, plan.

Did that, and I came back with heart full, decisions taken and vision clear.

Was ready to work, ready to make some changes, ready to write, ready to preach.

To begin with it went well.

Diary was re-shaped, preaching was begun, ideas started to take concrete form.

As they say, though, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Pressures mounted: home, work, family.

Then The Straw. Never thought of myself as a camel before, but that’s the only metaphor that fits.

Meltdown, illness, time off sick.

Gradual re-entry planned.

Re-entry paused by sickness of body.

Body and mind now both in plaster that can’t be seen but that still restricts, protects.

Re-entry rebooted.

Re-engagement tremulously restarted.

Things to still to write, read, plan, preach, do.

Ideas held loosely, battle still real.

Treading hopefully, moving gently.

What we’re up to over the next 3 months

On Monday April 13th (next week) my wife and I are going away on my sabbatical for 3 months. If you don’t know what a sabbatical is, it’s a break from the parish that includes rest and relaxation but isn’t only that. In the branch of the Anglican church I’m in, they’re supposed to come every 5 years; I’ve been in ordained ministry for 14 years and this will be my first sabbatical.

We’ll be going to New Zealand and Australia. We’ll have the first 2 months in New Zealand, then a month in Australia.

Here are some of our aims and priorities for this time, in no special order:

– rest and relaxation. Ministering in South Africa is hard work, and the last year or so has been especially hard on us in many ways. All told, we’re carrying some scars which need some deep rest to heal – much deeper rest then sort you get on a 2-3 week annual holiday.

– Bev will take lots of photos

– I’ll do lots of reading around church and theology issues that are relevant to where we’re at and what we’re doing

– see some new places and have some fun doing it

– Bev will connect with some social enterprises

– I’ll probably write some of it up in some way at some point

– visit some churches doing the sort of thing we’re interested in

– reflect on what’s happened recently and on what might happen next

If you’re the praying sort, it would be great if you could pray for us. Pray for the above, and …

– safety

– provision of what we need materially

– our church and home and dogs whilst we’re away

Here’s what you may get on the blog over the next 3 months …

– movie reviews

– thoughts about books I’m reading

– photos

– stuff about what we’re seeing and doing

– general random thoughts about anything

Here’s what I’m committing to on the blog over the next 3 months:

– ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I love blogging, writing and thinking out-loud. However if I commit to something like that for the next 3 months it will eventually become a tool of guilt, a chain around my neck. That’s the opposite of sabbatical, the root word of which is sabbath. So I may blog, or it may be over 3 months until you see me here again. If I do blog, it’ll be because I want to, and it’s helping me; which is how I use this blog anyway, it’s just the rhythm may well be even more erratic than normal.

So whatever the next 3 months brings for you and us, go well and with God.

See you when I see you.