Our story is one of love, passion, joy, heartache, and many tears. It’s the greatest of stories and, at times, the most heart wrenching of stories.
In two short years we have experienced nearly every scenario in foster care. We have walked through reunification, adoption, children who you immediately bond with and children who stretch you in every possible way. Through our experience, we have learned that when we choose to unconditionally love a child, lives are transformed.
When we started foster care, we only took in newborns. Over the course of the first four months we had three different infants come to live with us. Our third baby was “Inny.” This little girl has forever changed our lives. She taught us that love overcomes the most difficult of situations. Through her, we learned that when we choose to passionately, wholeheartedly, and unconditionally love someone, the struggles of yesterday can be washed away and hope can be resurrected. Inny has a special place in our heart, and her story has eternally affected our view of foster care.
Months before Inny was in our lives, we sat through foster parent training where I had a revelation that has stuck with me until this day. Our instructor said, “These children are not to fill a void in your life, but you are to fill a void in their lives.” This phrase reconstructed the paradigm of my role as a foster parent.
There are many different reasons people pursue foster parenting. However, the foundational truth that we must hold onto is that we, as foster parents, are providing a need and filling a void in a child’s life. The child is not to fill a void in our hearts, and if we have that expectation we are setting ourselves, and that child, up for disappointment and unnecessary heartache.
Inny helped teach us this lesson. We quickly fell in love with her, but each day we had to remind ourselves that we were the ones filling a void in her life. She was the one in desperate need of a stable, nurturing, and loving home, and we were the ones commissioned to give her that gift.
When we have the revelation that we are filling a void, unconditionally loving a difficult child becomes a little easier. When we step back and look at our children through different lenses, we no longer see the rebellious, indignant, and defiant child who has tested every boundary. Instead, we see a life that has had its innocence stolen, no longer trusts and is waiting to once again be disappointed. When we commit to love our children, trust is established, walls are torn down, and innocence is restored. Love is a powerful tool that we have been given as foster parents, and we must choose to use it so that lives are transformed.
Unfortunately, many people do not fully understand the reality of foster care. It is true that children are placed into the system for a reason. The state does not randomly go to a family and spontaneously take their children for no reason. Something happened that endangered the life of a child, and therefore, they are placed into foster care.
It is easy to pre-judge a biological parent. However, as easy as it is to pre-judge, it should be just as easy to believe that change can occur. Often times, the parents are children themselves who have never had support to help them learn to make right decisions.
We like to meet the biological families. This is typically discouraged. For us, though, we have learned that it helps us understand the family dynamic, and also eases the parents’ concerns about where their child has been placed. When they realize that we are for them and not against them, they let down their guard and allow us to be an influence in their lives. We have seen this happen time and time again. However, Inny’s Mom, “Grace” was different. Initially, she was not interested in us being a part of her life.
At first, it seemed as if Inny would be with us forever because her mom had not begun to do the necessary tasks required for reunification. However, at the last minute Grace showed up to the final court hearing and was given a second chance. Upon hearing this news, disappointment crept in. We allowed ourselves to go to a place that we were trained not to go. We began to dream about a future with Inny that was never intended to take place. Instead of growing disillusioned with the system, we chose to love Grace with the same intensity and passion that we had for Inny.
I will never forget sitting in the Miami courthouse in July 2009 waiting on a hearing on behalf of Inny. Up until that moment, our relationship with Inny’s family had been strained and tense. Walking into the courthouse, I was convinced that the judge would remove Inny from our home so she could live with her grandmother. My heart was heavy, and my stomach in knots. After waiting for nearly an hour, I had the opportunity to talk to Inny’s grandmother and Grace. I couldn’t hide my emotions, and with tears running down my cheeks, I told them how special Inny was and how much we loved her. There was breakthrough at that moment. In their eyes, I was no longer an enemy, but rather someone who deeply loved Inny and only wanted what was best for her. The judge surprised us and allowed Inny to stay, and I remember leaving the courthouse knowing that something had changed, love was prevailing!