Bringing Home Strays (Informal Foster Care)
“You and Les should do foster care,” said the guy sitting next to me at my brother’s wedding. He was the head of a children’s home, so he had a vested interest. Les happened to hear the comment and knew it would break my heart if I ever had to let a foster child go. So his reply was, “I’d have to have a personal message from God before I would ever let Carol do foster care.”
There was no personal message from God.
And yet over the years, Les and I have had 10 kids live in our home for periods of time, as well as two young adults and a single mom. Some were with us for only a few weeks, some a few months, the mom and her kids for almost a year, Joy forever. Not one came through a placement agency, government or private.
Les always says, “Some people bring home stray animals; Carol brings home stray people.” But I’m not the only one bringing them home; he’s brought his share. They’ve come as we’ve kept our eyes and ears and hearts open to how people are hurting. They’ve come as we’ve recognized a need we could fill. The family came through a thought God pressed on Les’s heart (so I guess there was a message from God).
Did my heart ever get broken? Multiple times. Eighteen-year-old Lori “left” before she even came, calling me before boarding a bus to head back to the mentally ill mother who had kicked her out at age 13, the mother who would attempt suicide two days after Lori arrived home. As she explained her rationale and the eagerness to be loved by her mother invaded her voice, I sat on the floor of our bedroom, hugging myself and sobbing. I was pretty sure this would end badly for Lori. I believed I would never heal.
When 14-year-old Debby and her 13-year-old sister Joy came into our home, we had known them for several years through our church and got along well. We were going to adopt them. The four of us were going to be a family. Some complications required us to get permanent custody first. The day the permanent custody papers came for us to sign—20 months after they moved in with us—Debby walked out, never to return to us. I was at work. Les called to say she had left in a fight over a candy bar (Joy can still tell you what kind it was). I thought they were joking. We all grieved. We all believed we would never heal.
Two years ago, our adopted granddaughter Ashlee came to live with us. She wasn’t adjusting well at home and had become a threat to her brother and Joy. She seemed to do well for the seven months she was here. She wanted to go home. Three weeks back she imploded and things got so bad the adoption was terminated. Again we grieve. It feels like our hearts will never heal.
They do heal, but there are always scars, tender spots that, when poked by a memory, produce pain. And yet . . .
Our lives have been enriched by the presence of each person. There’s the chunk of coal still in our front yard (moved 4 times) from Lauren. There’s the “Bedtime for Bonzolinas” song I made up for Max and Katie that still runs through my head. There’s the word “crookalized” that’s still in our vocabulary thanks to Joy (and her presence in our lives and hearts always). There’s memories of the Chinese tea ceremony at Leslie’s wedding. There are the funny stories of Hannah and Gloria whose Korean father thought it was fine to have his 12- and 13-year-old girls drive on I-95 on the way to Washington, DC. There’s the “Welcome Home, Mor More” sign from Ashlee hanging on my bulletin board. There’s a friendship with Cyndi that’s lasted 30 years, in which she still calls us Mom and Dad.
Yes, I’d do it again. (Why do people ask that? Do they ask that of people who had difficult times with their birth children?) Yes, I’d do things a bit differently. Yes, I’d ask God to help me be more patient with all of them. Yes, I’d try harder to get Lori to stay, to convince Debby to come back, to keep Ashlee here in Pennsylvania (although I don’t believe any of them would have).
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something every day that scares you.” We didn’t set out to do that, but when you open your heart and your home, it’s scary. Things can break. It’s worth the risk to love as God loves (however imperfectly we manage it).
Open your eyes. There may be someone who needs the warmth of your love and, possibly, your home. Step out and take the risk—even if you don’t receive a personal message from God.
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Carol has been blogging since 2005. Blog posts prior to 2010 can be found here.