James 1:27 in its simplest form would state…care for the defenseless
I would categorize “defenseless” as those who are unable to care for themselves due to their life’s circumstances. When I really break it down, in the present state of our world, I see orphans and children in foster care as those who represent the most defenseless in our midst.
You may have a different view on this topic, but caring for defenseless children has become a key area of focus in my life over the past few years. I have searched for what God is wanting my family to do to give hope and impact the life (or lives) of those in need in our community. Many will approach something like caring for others as a ‘nice thing to do’ and something that we do because it ‘makes us feel good’. Although that is a legitimate experience for many, my motivation for wanting to help others (particularly, the defenseless) is a desire to show them what makes me and my family different – our faith in Christ. Beyond giving them a better life experience, I want to give them hope for the future that is tied to something much deeper than themselves or their circumstances. By doing so, no matter where life may lead them, they can lean on their faith even if there isn’t a reliable adult in their life that they can lean on.
In order for faith to take root in their lives and a bond to develop, a child who has experienced trauma will need to feel safe, secured and loved. We all have different views on what this looks like in a home based on our experiences growing up and, where applicable, how we choose to parent our children. What is often discounted is the difficulty in helping a child feel safe and secure. It takes more than just a loving home; it takes time, patience and a lot of flexibility to be sensitive to how a child processes the events in their lives – specifically, the way their brains process information. So, here are some things we have learned along the way. I’m sure there will be more learning as we experience other situations, but this is where we are today.
We had to learn to be flexible. I grew up in a single parent home and had many experiences in life that I had to learn on my own. One of my parents is a very ‘black and white thinker’, so my tendency as a young adult was to approach life the same way – that there is a clear right and wrong answer. I witnessed a certain parenting style in my home and others and was able to assess, even at a young age, what worked for me and what didn’t. When Donna and I had children, we had our views on how to parent them (thankfully, most of which we agreed on) and you would have to work hard to convince me to do it any other way. But when we had our first placement of foster children in our home (two beautiful girls), we had to learn to be flexible – and it had implications not only on these girls, but on my two children as well. I can’t choose two different methods of parenting in the same home, but I could blend them and actively choose to show greater grace in my parenting with the expectation that it will demonstrate a level of love that these children needed to experience – including my own! Additionally, we had to be willing to adjust to any new information that came our way as the girls became more comfortable in our home. Their life experiences start to pour out when they feel safe, and you have to be ready for whatever comes your way.
We had to learn to love them fully. Contrary to what many believe, love is something I choose to do, not just simply a feeling I have. I deeply love my kids and tell them often, but I also demonstrate it in my daily interactions with them. Despite the difficulty in having these two girls adapt to life in our home, we had to show them an incredible amount of love that would help break through the barriers they had. They needed to consistently see that we would treat them the same and respond to them the same way we would our birth children. They needed to not only feel like they were a part of our family, but to be a part of our family in every way. They needed to participate in everything we did. They needed to have a voice in our home (as an aside, a home filled with four strong-willed children can get rather noisy). Additionally, this required love not only from Donna and me, but from our children, our parents, our sisters and brothers, etc. I was and continue to be grateful for the love our extended family poured out on these girls.
We had to be patient. Our parenting efforts would take time to manifest into changed behavior. I had approached parenting my children with the expectation of ‘first time obedience’. Anything less than this was unacceptable. With children who have not experienced this approach to parenting in their early years of development, we would need to allow more time to unwind what they had learned and retrain them with a different expectation. I also had to ask whether first time obedience was a realistic expectation for any child, or was it of greater value to use situations as a teaching opportunity and allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. Of course, if their safety is involved, I was not going to let them learn a hard lesson – but most situations would allow for some learning to happen. This doesn’t happen overnight. For the girls, they had to learn the new expectation before I could use it as a teaching opportunity, but for my children, they knew the expectation and could start to apply what they had learned. Moving away from a command and control approach to parenting requires patience, but it was a necessary move for us because that approach would not communicate love, safety and security (which is exactly what the girls needed to feel safe and begin to develop at deeper levels emotionally).
We had to prepare for a broken heart. This is what I believe is a key difference between fostering and adopting…the greater potential for a broken heart. The goal of fostering is always to return children to their birth parents. It’s a beautiful picture of sacrificial love – to care for children, allowing them to heal while their parents get in a better place to care for them again. The difficulty is – you need to plan for them to eventually leave but act as if they never will. You also need to plan for any combination of potential outcomes to occur – they could be moved to another foster home because of outside circumstances you never thought about, a family member could surface that is willing to take them in, a birth parent could suddenly change their minds and surrender their rights and you are faced with a decision on whether to adopt, etc. In all cases, when a child leaves your home, no matter the length of time they were there, it will represent a loss for you and your heart will be broken.
So, you may ask, why do you do it? We do it because children in foster care are indeed defenseless and need someone to help them in the healing process of the trauma and loss they have experienced. I’d rather put my heart out there than let them, as a defenseless child, try and figure it out on their own (which typically results in building up relational walls or burying their feelings, which isn’t healthy for anyone).
If you have ever considered fostering or adoption, check out www.every-child.com for more information on how to partner with the church in caring for the defenseless – both those in your own back yard and those across the globe.
Are there some things you are doing or have seen others to to care for the defenseless around them?