Who Is Sufficient For This??? (Confession of a Foster/Adoptive Parent)

Forgive me Father for I have sinned… forgive me Father; I am weak.

You don’t go into foster/adoption parenting thinking there will be no sacrifice.  No one does.  And probably my story is both different and yet somehow the same as all the others, but I must say, I am full of fear and trembling now more than ever.  I am pretty sure this job is going to kill me if something else doesn’t get me faster.

Several months ago, I wrote and entitled a post – Your Story Becomes Our Story.  My aim, in more philosophical terms, was to point out that ministry is messy; you’re gonna get a little on ya!  I think my church, with the When-Helping-Hurts program endorsing it, really wants to “help” the needy with universal precautions, like medical staff at the hospital.  It’s a glove-up-before-you-touch-the-patient mentality.  I’m gonna “help” you, alright, but I don’t want to exert a lot of energy in vain or, worse yet, get dragged down with you!  That would be WHEN HELPING HURTS, you see….

It’s not the way of Jesus, but it is the way of “infection control” at the hospital.  Universal precautions are the industry standard, but they aren’t in the Jesus-playbook.  Jesus stretches out his hand and touches a leper!  The transmission of this man’s leprosy is not what is going to kill Jesus, though.  No.  It’s the transmission of the man’s sin that will do that, and Jesus sees no need to glove up to touch the man.  On the contrary, that ain’t love.

I am a foster/adoptive parent working in the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners.  Over the course of my life, I literally have played host to all three categories of needy (if you are willing to count homeless as “sojourners” and also when I was a kid, that my parents kept elderly widow ladies, so I count them too).

Talking Publicly About My Kids

However, when it comes to the orphans, I am very nervous writing about them.  First off (to put my foster agency supervisors at ease), I recognize that I must honor confidentiality.  I’m careful even on a blog which mutes my identity.  But secondly, and for me even more important, it’s not nearly so much you (the average blog reader (there are so few of you here anyway)) that I want to keep this information under wraps from; it’s the kids!  They will eventually grow up and might read the record I put out there, and I don’t want to commit any sentiment to the public record that they might one day view as hurtful or harmful.  Loving them is hard, but I don’t ever want them to think I am second-guessing my commitment to them.

So, as far as blogging is concerned, should the day ever come that one or all of my kids who passed through our home were to read here, I want them to know that I love them, and I love them as if they were my own blood kin.  I am committed to that.  I want them to know that just because we don’t share DNA does not make them any less precious to me!  Any deficiency in the love is my weakness, not my desire for them.

Is that any less a miracle?

Or is it more???

I could just as easily make the case that this way of being family is even more the miracle, that in a day and age of so much divorce, addiction, and ripped apart families and psyches, I planned for them whether their biological parents did or not, whether their biological parents loved them or not.  I cannot shut out the mystery of biological roots, but I can say I WANTED these kids in a way I might not be able to say to my own biological children.

I guess I just hope that if my kids ever read here, they choose to think more like that about my love for them.  Yes, it is a sacrifice, and yes in some ways harder, but the commitment to love them and keep them in my heart and home was made very soberly and not in the heat of passion.

My Parental Naivete

No matter the way you come into the parenting, we all come to it NOT knowing every answer to every question, NOT knowing where to turn for every issue.  When you sign on, you are saying you are willing to risk devastating pain in an effort to learn the answers and to find the resources needed along the way.  You try to mitigate the naivete to the extent possible, but you see it is built-in even at the start.

So here, in a rather naïve way of handling my own naivete, is how I comfort myself with that:  I say that I don’t have to know it all; I just have to know more than the biological parents who gave up their kids, and that puts the kids ahead of where they would have been if I hadn’t.

It’s a low bar, but it’s true.

Now I am not claiming I aim low, only that I give myself that much grace to mess up.  On my worst day as a foster/adoption parent, I am likely doing better than drug-addicted, abusive parents who so haphazardly brought these children into the world in the first place.  I don’t actually mean to belittle the biological parents, God bless ’em for having the foresight (in some instances) to bow out gracefully, but in the rawest terms, this is just sadly true a lot of the time.

Well… okay.  There is comfort to be had in that, alright.  But there are OTHER kinds of naivete there too.  It’s not very motivational, for one thing.  If you’re not careful with that insight, you can start coasting with a poor attitude.  It also presents a slippery slope on which to hold the kids’ biological families in contempt, and honestly, that is just a bad mistake.  On the contrary, to the extent it’s even remotely reasonable, it is important to extend the grace to those parents too if for no other reason than that the kids will suffer inferiority regarding their origins.  Far better to acknowledge that there but for the grace of God goes any of us, including me, and that those parents are human beings who have innate value both to God and to the kids they sire.  No.  It would be better to assume they are (or at least started out as) good people suffering extraordinary disadvantages for which my taking over their parenting responsibilities helps both them and their kids.

Confession

At any rate, I am confessing that I have relaxed too much with the attitude.  I coasted, and I fight not coasting now.  And just the mere notion of fatigue overwhelms my fight against it so easily.

And besides, these things are not so cleanly lived as they are talked about.  Ministry is messy.  You’re gonna get some of it on ya.  Their story is now my story!

When the “special needs” start presenting themselves in hyperactivity and/or behavioral issues, and when those moments in which they come out catch me off guard at any hour of the day or night, I begin to resent the kid.

I soothe myself thinking: I stepped in where I did not have to.  I accepted burden that was not mine.  It needed done!  And I said, “Here I am, send me!”  And not only that, but I gave these kids my name!  I made commitment for the long haul…  There are no insurance policies for this.  There is no returns and refunds department.  Just when my church family turned their back on me regarding our care for the homeless, I am left largely alone to take on this ministry too.  And if this isn’t going to just fester in deep, soul-grinding regret, we need to change gears and start RUNNING to catch up.  This is LOVE!  Is it not???

Ahhh….  Yes, and LOVE puts the bar back up very, very, very high again!

I am playing catch up for all I am worth.  I am praying, meditating, asking advice, reading books and websites, looking for help, making appointments with doctors and counselors.  AND THIS IS WHERE THE KIDS REALLY BECOME MINE.

At this point, it really makes no difference if the kids are biologically mine or not, the fact is you can love your kids with perfect parenting skills only to watch them reject you, turn on you, lie to you, lie about you, stab you in the back and in the heart, sell you out, trash your name and reputation … oh and hurt you.

Don’t believe me?  Just ask God about your behaviors toward him.  Just look at Israel in all his sin with no where to turn but God’s grace, and still he won’t.  And that’s my story.  It’s your story.

And here I am taking in kids not of my loins.  I mean, sure, odds are pretty good that if they were of my loins they would look, act, think, and talk a lot more like me.  And I was relatively easy!  I was my Mama’s little soldier!  But there are no guarantees about that, and I have a sibling – raised in the same house by the same two people as me – who very purposely set out to sabotage my parents, and pretty well did in numerous imaginative ways – including horrible drug addiction.

(And actually, I was no saint either, truth be told.)

This Is Why We Can’t Have NICE Things

This is ministry.  And I have fantasies about what it is supposed to look and feel like.  The schools I studied ministry in didn’t put this in the brochures.  I wrote papers and took internships that didn’t prepare me for this!  No, I have fantasies about how my home is supposed to look and feel.  I work hard to surround myself with certain trappings, style, and order, and I can have patience with minor inconveniences, but trashing it all isn’t what I had in mind.  And though I might – just might – manage to net a positive influence on the little lives around me, I had thought that all the careful order I brought to my life, to my part of the world, was what would help, and that if I could get the kids to adopt my lifestyle that it would be a mark of real success.  But as it is now, I fear – really fear – that I am likely to lose everything in a huge gamble that really will not pay off at all.

Israel yearned and prayed for God’s deliverance at the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem every year, and they remembered, and longed for, the deliverance God had given them through Moses.  They ordered their lives very carefully for it.  Under King Herod, the new temple gleamed on a mountain pedestal inspiring dreams of grandeur and hope for the coming deliverance.  But when God came to deliver them, he showed up looking like a peasant prophet building an army out of the lame, the blind, the poor, and the weak, and he went into Herod’s shiny temple and tossed the furniture every which way and running everyone out of it!

God is doing that still.

He has come into my life, the life I so carefully planned and constructed, and he came to it like a whirlwind to Job tearing up everything so neatly organized, and he breaks me down so that I am faced with either accepting his unlikely, counterintuitive deliverance – or killing him instead.

I see Jesus in the faces of my kids.  Jesus is the one I love above all others.  Jesus is the one I give my life to in the fullest sense.  Yet I am struck by the compartmentalization modern, American life claims to give me.  I want my 401k to grow.  I want to keep my health insurance benefits, and not pay too high a fee. I want to shop in the mall and wear new clothing styles.  In the words of Tyler Durden, “Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like the coffee table in the shape of a yin yang, I had to have it.  …  I wonder what dinette set completes me as a person … I want it all … I want glass dishes with the bubbles and tiny imperfections – proof they were handcrafted by the indigenous peoples of wherever….”

And somehow I almost thought – I mean I really almost thought – that I could punch my attendance card at church, pay my tithe, and walk out to the rest of my Amazon ordered existence honoring Jesus.

But Jesus showed up in the faces of some kids I took in, and he flipped the tables on me, and he says, “Love me!  And try to keep up!”  And all those other dreams of how I would order my world just go up in smoke like Jerusalem’s temple in 66 AD.  And the only thing left is Jesus and me.  And I reject him too.  I turn my back and say, no.  Not on Your terms, I had it all!  I want it back!  I want it all back now!

And I struggle with dying like this

I love my kids.  I am locked in, come-what-may.  But this ministry is really getting tough, and the end of me is more in sight than the end of it.  And I am filled with fear and trembling.  I am overwhelmed with shame, pain, fear, ignorance, weakness, and tears.

Who is sufficient for this?

My love feels so small and impotent.

I am certain now of this: any good that comes from this is for God’s glory, not mine.

7 comments

  1. Tim McGee · February 12, 2020

    Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your perseverance. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for your love.
    Well done good and faithful servant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · February 12, 2020

      Thanx for the encouraging word.

      I need to disclose, after further reflection, that I do have one brother from church (agent dc) who shows support and comes around to hold/rock a baby sometimes. That kind of help is invaluable.

      When we started this child care wing of the ministry (which for the last four years has become the main thrust of our daily work at FBHWOS), I had dreamed that this home would be filled with brothers and sisters from church who would drop in at all hours, eat with us, hold a baby, and visit. We also hoped we might expand the ministry and begin serving medical needs kids especially (Mrs. Agent X is a baby nurse), and would then begin coordinating whole crews of caregivers.

      In the meantime, I cannot stress how powerful friends and family just dropping in to visit really is in helping maintain sanity. The interaction provides far deeper support than it seems. The encouragement, accountability, and adult-to-adult friendships prove at least as meaningful as holding a crying baby does, and the after effects last longer too.

      I can’t stress how easy it is to provide so much help with so little exertion of energy.

      But I also need to acknowledge that I do get some of that from agent dc, who has proven very important to us around here. As I consider the post as published, I see that I have failed to give that credit where it is due. It is remarkable how important a friend is.

      And your encouraging word is helpful too.

      Thanx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. agentdc · February 12, 2020

    I know from reading your recent comments on this and other sites your love for the homeless and disadvantaged, but I know from being around you and your wife as you care for these children the love and concern that you have for them in Christ. I know both of you could do it only with God’s help. To me it would be much easier to spend time and money with the poor and homeless to help them than to love and care for the ones you have adopted (a lifelong commitment on both your parts) and the foster children you have cared for. I do very little to help you or anyone else. Both of you are doing God’s work. I stand in awe of what you both are doing with God’s help and inspirat;on. May God continue to bless you and help you. You are in our prayers. Thank you for your example. agent dc

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · February 12, 2020

      DC, your mere presence in this home, if only for an hour, helps so much. It’s just a touch, but it makes a difference.

      This post tries to set the stage and make it all insightful/understandable, but it also is about confession. I don’t mean to make excuses for myself, but I am trying to see clearly what I NEED, because it is getting harder and scarier.

      I am not quite an old man, on the official scale, but I am close enough to see old age on my door step, knocking on my FRONT door. And I have made a life-long commitment to raise kids. At this point, they know no other Pops or Mama. They have others, biologically speaking, but they have no idea about that yet. But they can out run and out shout me. I am pushed to my limits almost every day and night. It looks very little like I had planned anymore. And while it is still mostly good, I think, there is a lot of disappointment and fear that goes with all the plans swirling the drain.

      Let me count the fears…

      Let’s just say I do a really good job AND the kids respond very favorably to it and become very conscientious young adults. Even good young people NEED their parents in their lives! Who helps you learn to be a parent, but your parents? And how much of THAT is learned once you have your own kids?? And where will my babies gain that kind of support??? Even if everything else works out well, I almost certainly will be gone at that very needful point in their lives.

      Now let’s just get real. I already ain’t THAT great of a parent. I don’t know how to set limits, how to enforce them, and the temperament stored up in the DNA of these kids is NOT the same as stored up in mine. I don’t know them THAT well. And what about the damage of drugs and abuse that leaves life-long effects on people who come to me for a HOME? Even the specialists are still working those things out. How can I manage them?

      And then there are my own personal shortcomings and failings. I am far from a perfect person. I am not the best foster/adoptive parent in the world by a long shot.

      I am reading a book on the subject right now. I find comfort in the fact that the lady who wrote it – an expert – claims that even though she formulated the therapeutic methods of parenting she writes about, and even though she trains others to use those methods in counseling, in seminars and in books, she herself strays into cruise control parenting only to wake up to her own mistakes.

      I don’t mind saying, there is a part of me that views all the talk, all the empathy and attempts to step into the child’s shoes too, has a too-much-indulgence side to it. I really don’t have the time, when the school bus is waiting outside, to run through a list of questions about how my child is FEELING at that moment; I just need some simple compliance! Put your shoes on! Let’s go!!! But I have to admit that forcing him out the door into the hands of strangers to go about his school day does seem traumatic too. It sends him away from me in anger and fear, and that surely can’t be good either. And there is no “balance” in that moment. He either rides the bus or misses it.

      When I worked for the Psych hospital, I took SAMA training for handling confrontations. I remember how some of it seemed a little too namby-pamby at first too, but the more I thought about it and then when I began to use it, I was amazed at the results. Results are not actually guaranteed, but they tend to be powerful. But it takes time and energy and forethought to deploy the measures. It takes more patience than I have, I think. I mean, it was one thing to use that at work, punch out and go home at night. It’s another to have that skill at the ready day and night 24/7/365!

      But it looks like the book I am reading aims at somewhat of a variation on that training.

      I should say here that I tried to write very generically about the kids. I construct somewhat of a composite kid out of several or all of them that have come here. I carry deep burden in my heart for some that have gone now too. Three in particular. One I am relieved to be rid of, but deeply troubled about THAT! (I wrote a confession post where that one featured more strongly a while back) But there were two others that left here in very difficult circumstances – one the courts took and placed back with the family who had done so much devastating harm before, the other was one we decided to let go as new circumstanced opened up. One I could not change, the other I could have kept if I was willing to lawyer up, but I was feeling very old and the thought of making another one permanent just seemed too much – but now I second-guess that decision every day.

      Not exactly Sophie’s Choice, but not that far removed either. My guts hurt facing life either way, and there is NO RELIEF for the pain my decisions cause.

      Who is sufficient for this?

      I am a bug on the windshield of this world. I am splattered all over it. What good am I to these precious people? They are made in God’s image and thus are of more value than I can calculate. Far more valuable than this house, the car I drive, my retirement account, even my own comfort. And I wonder what will happen if the money does run out! Where will my kids be then? I have slept on the cold concrete before in solidarity with the homeless. Might I be back there again one day AS one of them and with my babies taking my blanket???

      Every little step I make is fraught with risk and the stakes are high. I am bound to make costly mistakes and then be running to make up for them.

      Thanx for your prayers. I am so very encouraged to know you are praying for us.

      I don’t – or at least I haven’t previously – spend all my days and nights in this angst, but it does seem to be increasing with time, not getting better. Thus, it seems I should write about it. Thanx for the positive feedback. And thanx for being a part of it with us. THAT helps so much.

      God bless you…

      x

      Like

  3. agentdc · February 12, 2020

    There are no guarantees in this life as you well know. The children that you have cared for are better off for your and your wife’s care even if it ended now (which I know everyone involved is praying it does not). I worry too about grandchildren and other family members. At some point we have to do what we can and turn it over to God (which you already know, but it is hard to do in my experience).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Debi · February 13, 2020

    Since I have known you, I have been amazed at your and Mrs. Agent X’s courage, fortitude, and love in this ministry you’ve lovingly provided for who knows how many babies and children. I encourage you to be easier on yourself with regard to your lack of perfection. God is with you, and God understands. I wish I could hold a baby for you. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · February 13, 2020

      Me too! Debi, me too…

      I would love that.

      One of my fantasies about this ministry was that people would get excited about all these babies and want to help. And I am prepared to make helping a fairly easy thing. I would love it if I had one or two mainstay volunteers who would come with lots of regularity and we could develop routines for all the others who pass through as they can – day or night (mostly day). That we could create a network of help and then really take on even MORE kids and TOUGHER kids (or esp medical needs kids).

      I envisioned keeping beans and cornbread or a pot of chilli – cheap but yummy eats almost perpetually going so that at any time a helper could come by and grab a meal, sit and visit, hold and rock a baby.

      For those who want to help more than that, we can use it, but those who think holding a baby is a challenge, we can make it just that simple!

      I have told men at church (and I have had takers a couple of times) that I will NEVER stick a brother with a dirty diaper or a bath time. I will handle all those delicate things, but if I had some brother just sit and rock or maybe roll around on the floor with a toy train set and a kid… We could do sooooooo much, and the help and visit would be soooooooo encouraging and helpful.

      There is one ugly hurdle in this. I have to get criminal background checks on people who visit here like two or more times or who plan to stay over night. It’s the regulations on our foster license, but for most people that is not hard to do. Just an ugly formality.

      But I think we could do soooooooooo much with such simple measures.

      I only need cooperation.

      but my church has shunned me, and so we don’t.

      😦

      Like

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