Today I walked into an office for a meeting, took off my coat, sat down and began with “I just have to let you know that I don’t want to be here today. But I am being obedient to God by being here, and by saying what I need to say. And in fact, I was hoping I could put it off but with today being leap day and all, well, it’s time I take a leap.”
Last week I was in Portland for this semester’s week of classes we call Face To Face. I love this time with my classmates and professors, in fact it is a large part of why I picked this “online hybrid” program at George Fox. Having me gone for eight days in a row, twice a year, is challenging for my family (and for me too) but a necessary part of this school thing for me.
My first day on campus belonged to the class on prayer. We had a glorious morning with lots of wonderful discussion and prayer experiences. Then the afternoon was spent at a local home where we prayed individually, in the labyrinth, and as part of a small group. These experiences were deeply meaningful, and God met me in a powerful way with themes of rest, play, and abiding instead of doing. During our prayer group, I asked for prayer in trusting God with the desire of my heart. My sweet friends, without any more details, prayed confidence and trust over me.
Just about this time last year we were changing our foster license. With a rules change from the state (which I don’t want to go into here) that we couldn’t abide, we adjusted our license from ages 0-3 to ages 2-5. Our original calling and blessing was fostering infants. We’ve had four infant placements (two long-term, two short-term) and a handful of respite babies over the four years we’ve been licensed. We let those we could know our displeasure at the rule change, and almost daily ever since I have prayed they will change it back and we can foster a baby again.
This is the desire of my heart. The one I asked my group to pray about. The one I confessed to my husband recently. (His response? That is insane! Where would we put an infant in our busy schedule these days?) The one God asked me just a few short days before to relinquish, to open my hands and give it to him. I don’t want to birth another baby. I am content with our family and happy and grateful for what we have. But I long in my heart of hearts to minister to someone else and to live out my calling as a disciple of Christ, by loving someone else’s baby. I know this sounds weird, but it is my truth. And the desire God is asking me to trust him with.
After the class on prayer, I headed into 2.5 days in a class called “Personal Transformation.” This class is the real deal. Transformation is a part of the life of a disciple of Christ, and if we are to lead others toward transformation experiences, we must as leaders be willing to go there first. So we were going there last week. Through conversation, Scripture study, lecture, and personal exercises, we were tackling some hard places in our lives. God’s work in transforming us into the image of God’s son isn’t easy, but it is real and ultimately it is really really good.
After a study of the “lost” parables (you know, the lost sheep and the lost coin) we were asked to take 20 minutes and write a narrative of the way Christ pursues us. This is my kind of assignment, I thought. I love to write and I am so grateful for the ways Christ has pursued and continues to pursue me. Bring it on!
I opened up my computer and bowed my head, asking God for an image of how Christ pursues me. The one that came to mind was a bit unexpected: two mothers and one baby.
What? So I sat with it a bit longer.
Two mothers and one baby. Not altogether unexpected given my life as a foster mom. But stil…
Who am I in this picture? Who is Christ? How is this a picture of pursuing?
Nothing. Just that image. What in the world was I supposed to do with this?
So I used my open computer to go to the place in Scripture where we see such an image: 1 Kings 3, the Judgment of King Solomon. This passage is difficult to make out at first, which woman did what? Which baby is dead? Which one did the switching?
And then this: why in the world would the second mother react the way she did? When King Solomon offers to cut the child in half, one mother screams out “NO!” and offers the child to the other woman. The expectation at that point is the woman would accept the child and walk away. Instead, she herself offers a “NO!” and agrees that the child should be cut in half, effectively killing it.
This tale is often told to show the wisdom of King Solomon, but what in the world was I to do with it? What kind of woman would be willing to kill a child? Even if the child wasn’t hers to begin with? What is going on here? It can’t simply be because she is jealous. If that were the case, take the baby and be happy. I searched google for an answer, and then sat down to write my narrative. It isn’t any good, otherwise I might consider sharing it here. But it is dark. Really dark. And ends with a dead baby and a dead mother. Because really, what kind of mother would be alive and also be willing to murder a baby?
I sit staring at the screen, flabbergasted and confused. What is this, Lord? What are you trying to tell me? What is this dark place?
It is at this point we are to gather up with our discussion partner/group and share our narrative. Um…no thanks. I give my professor a snapshot of what I have written, and she responds, “it appears the Spirit has co-opted my assignment” and generously offers me the space I need to process.
I walk around a bit before settling in the back of the chapel, closing my eyes, and demanding God explain himself. Do not leave me here with this dark image, I beg. Tell me what this is all about. Please.
This next part is weird to say out loud, and even weirder to write, because I don’t quite know how the Spirit worked. There were no audible voices, just gentle nudges. Which thoughts were mine and which were prompted by the Spirit I’m not quite sure. It is all a jumble. So forgive me as I stumble through it, but this is important to record.
Spirit: Where else in Scripture is there a mother with a dead child?
Me: Why, Mary and her boy Jesus.
Spirit/Me: Jesus had to die to set her free. Jesus had to die to set you free.
According to some Jewish rabbis, the two women in Solomon’s story were actually related by marriage. One woman was daughter-in-law to the other, she had been married to the second woman’s son. But the first woman’s husband was dead, and with her own dead son, now she was bound to his infant brother. Until he was 13 years old and he would marry her or release her, she was bound to him.
Me: The baby had to die for her to be free.
Spirit: The baby has to die for you to be free.
And with that I knew. The dream of an infant and the call of foster care, I need to let it go. It is not my calling anymore. And I am not free for what God has for me, until I let the baby die.
When I recounted this to Darin, and questioned the darkness of the image (dead babies are not a popular image around here), he encouraged me that God really needed to get my attention and this was a way to do it. Makes me wonder how long God has been trying to get my attention? We haven’t had a placement for a year, some would think that would indicate a “door closed.” There is no movement on the state’s part to change their rule, some would think that was a door closed. I have no margin in my life full of parenting and wifing and seminary and Teen MOPS, shouldn’t that be enough to let it go?
For this past year I have often (yes, a lot) said that “we are licensed foster parents and are taking a bit of a break, but don’t feel released from this ministry” when really I should have been saying, “I am not ready to let it go.”
I’m so grateful for a God who is slow with me.
I’m so grateful for a God who knows how to get my attention.
As I work my way back through my own anxiety in letting this go, I have to be honest: so much of my identity and the one I want our family to have is wrapped up in the ministry of foster care. In my understanding of what it means to follow Christ, we are to care for the orphan. This is what I lived. This is what I preach: put your heart in a place where it is willing to be broken for the things that break God’s heart. And when your heart breaks, let it scar over and break again.
I wrote these words last semester about our foster journey:
My family experienced some massive heartache through foster care just under two years ago and it has profoundly shaped me and my faith. As we took the time to grieve and heal my husband and I wondered if we were done. How could we possibly walk back into the fray knowing full well this heartache could come again? But we watched our children and we listened to them. We heard them pray deeply with care for people they knew and for total strangers. We watched as tragedy unfolded and their first instinct was to pray. We watched them love babies and children without fear and without need for reciprocation. And we heard them tell the stories of their foster sister and brother and the times we had together as a family.
We knew that our fostering journey wasn’t over, because of them. We see the fruit in their young lives and we have a deep desire for them to grow into compassionate and “foolish” women seeking after the things of God. We want them to live in trust and without fear, with hearts fully willing to break and break and break again. And we don’t see another way to teach them this than to do it with them in the ministry of foster care.
What part of myself do I lose if I am no longer a foster parent? What part of my ministry? What part of our family dynamic, our family goals?
And yet, God.
I am choosing to trust in that freedom God promised. I am choosing to trust that God has a plan to mold and shape my sweet girls into women on-fire for Christ and the people he loves. I am choosing to trust that God has a plan to continue to mold and transform me.
For many, foster care is a life. For us, it appears that foster care was a season. And in that, this song has been my hope and my prayer and my promise:
There is a strength that rises up in me
To know that You've been here before me
A strength beyond what I can see
Jesus, Your love
Jesus, Your love
So let my heart tell You again
When seasons change and stories end
Your steady love
It will sustain me through it all
Jesus, Your love
So I will sing it, and I will grieve. But I have a new hope for a new season.
And an identity that Christ is calling me to root in him, and not in the things that I do for him. (But that sounds like another post for another day.)