Foster Care and the Father Who Never Says Goodbye

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The knot in our stomachs wound tighter as the elevator climbed to the eighth floor. The doors slowly squeaked open, and we made our way down the long hallway.

It was a dreary November morning, and the gray from outside seemed to be spilling in through the window panes and casting a sad fog over our hearts.

The meeting room was filled with toys of all kinds — stuffed puppies, plastic dinosaurs and baby dolls with cheerful but worn faces, all telling the tales of children, birth parents, and foster families who sat in this room before us for their final goodbye visit.

We smiled the best we could and made small talk. The social worker silently observed and took notes.

Our foster son was as happy as could be. Oblivious to the occasion at hand, he bounced around excitedly from one toy to the next. Occasionally his birth parents tried to pick him up and hug him. Though they were strangers to him, he willingly obliged for a moment before wiggling down to explore the next toy that caught his eye.

I sat there trying to take it all in, resisting the tears brimming behind my glasses. I was grateful that our little boy was only twenty months old and unaware of the sadness that loomed large in the room. Soon enough he will have to face the harsh realities of this world, process the brokenness of his birth family, and grapple with the pain of drug addiction that had brought this visit about.

But for today, he just gets to play.

Almost Ours

I’m thankful to say that my husband and I were not the ones saying goodbye that dreary November day. Though we feared that possibility a year ago, that is no longer the case, and that day’s visit brought us one step closer to making this boy our son. We couldn’t be more grateful. This is what we, and so many of our friends and family, have earnestly asked God for. We praise him for working on our son’s behalf, and are filled with such joy and relief that he will soon be adopted and officially ours.

Yet what we were completely unprepared for is the profound sadness that would also linger in our hearts over the brokenness and pain that often precedes the glorious reality of adoption. For us to receive a son, someone else is losing a son. For us to welcome him in as a part of our family, they must say goodbye. Though I didn’t give birth to him, he turns to me and says, “Mommy.” This is such sweetness to my ears, but as I look into the eyes of his birth mother, grief seeps in and paints a vivid picture of the consequences of sin and the destructiveness of addiction.

The sin that promised happiness, and the drugs that offered comfort, now only deliver a broken heart and a sad goodbye to a son she doesn’t know.

Brokenness Doesn’t Have the Last Word

Foster care is a messy, complicated process, filled with messy, complicated emotions. Those who choose to venture down this path dive headlong into a journey involving many twists and turns. Though the road can be long and treacherous for the heart, we have a God who never grows faint. He is near to the brokenhearted and is able to give strength to those who embark down this long, winding path.

My husband and I began this journey nearly three years ago, and though our hearts have been broken by the things we have seen, we don’t regret a single day in the process.

We have anxiously awaited phone calls after court dates. We have nervously braced ourselves to say goodbye to our baby on numerous occasions. We have cried over news of birth parents dropping out of rehab. Most recently, we have experienced something that should never have to happen, watching as parents kissed their son goodbye one last time.

These things should not be. Parents shouldn’t have to say goodbye to their children, babies shouldn’t have to experience drug withdrawal, and adoptive parents shouldn’t have to grieve with their children over the brokenness of birth families. In a post-Genesis-3 world, these things are a reality. Because Adam and Eve chose their way over God’s way, sin entered the world and left nothing untouched.

But this is not the end of the story. Brokenness does not get the last word. This is true for our son’s story; this is true for this sin-cursed world.

Jesus came, entered our broken world, lived a perfect life, and died a sinner’s death. He rose from the dead, conquering sin, selfishness, bad decisions, drug addiction, and even death itself. He did this for all who would trust in him — whether young or old, religious or non-religious, birth parent or adoptive parent. All who were once far off can be adopted into the family of God and given a new start and new life in Christ.

From this truth, Christians reach out into the bewildering lostness of this world. We bring the orphan into our home (James 1:27). Despite the sorrow and pain that mark the beginning of our son’s life, Jesus has brought him safely to us. He is now healthy, cared for, loved as a son, and soon to be adopted — ours for the rest of this life. He has been given a new family, a new home, and the hope of a different path.

Sharing Our Father’s Joy

Many others share the same beginning story as our foster son. In the United States alone, approximately 510,000 children are in the foster care system, and over 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. The statistics are tragic, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The tale of this broken world doesn’t end on a dreary November day. Instead, it ends with a new beginning of a much greater kind.

On that day, there will be no more mourning, no more pain, no more broken families, foster care, drug withdrawal, or goodbye visits. The family of God will be together as one, worshiping Jesus, the Lamb who was slain to rescue us from the sin we once chose.

Until then, it is our prayer that we who know the joy of being adopted into the family of God will be known as those who adopt children in need, putting on display a glorious picture of the gospel for all to see.