If you have been around contemporary Christian worship in the recent past, you are probably familiar with Hillsong’s Oceans. About 18 months into our foster care journey I dubbed this song “The Foster Care Song.” It was a frequent listen during some ups and downs then, but we had many Ocean experiences prior to that.
It was late spring of 2014 and we were just entering the world of foster care. The paperwork was done, the background checks filed, the house approved. We had already taken one phone call for an emergency placement and said ‘no.’ Shortly thereafter, a caseworker left me a voicemail about a sibling group of two. Unknown to us, he had just spent the past nine months shuffling them from place to place, trying to find something that would work. We were home number four. Not wanting to put them through another unnecessary transition, he wondered if we would be interested in getting to know them before making any decisions. We were agreeable to the arrangement. We were to be their ‘babysitters’ for the time being. Among the many emotions running around inside, nervous was right at the top. Fear was there too.
Austin met with the current foster family and brought the two home for a visit at our house. Our own biological son was approaching age one. He had been a relatively calm child to date and our first year with him was uneventful and quiet.
It took us all of five minutes to realize that we were highly unexperienced in managing any children, let alone those with a seemingly insatiable need for control. Those four hours felt like days. The oldest, who was five at the time, was on edge and difficult to transition. It seemed like a meltdown was always just around the corner. His younger sister was cute, but quiet. Though nearing age three, her vocabulary was very limited, and the few words she did know we found difficult to understand. When the time finally came for Austin to take them back, we struggled through the transition with screaming and crying from the oldest, eventually got them into the car, and off they went. Breathing a sigh of relief, I put our son to bed and awaited Austin’s return.
When he arrived home, we both sat down at the kitchen table with a container of ice cream between us. We said nothing. We just stared at each other, slowly savoring the sweet dessert and the precious quiet of our peaceful home. Sometimes we chuckled, then returned to silence. We were exhausted and felt completely inept. What were we thinking? We have no idea how to parent these kids.
Finally one of us broke the silence. “Are we really going to do this?”
It was a defining moment. The path in front of us had clearly divided into two: comfort in the known – the life we enjoyed, or this drop into the unknown – into the chaos of a child’s trauma. We were hovering on walking away from the entire idea of foster care.
“Either we are taking these two in, or we are done.”
We said yes. That step felt completely blind. We stepped into the unseen future. We couldn’t see the future a week out, or even a day. Just an hour at a time, sometimes a moment at a time. The ocean we were entering was choppy and grey, chaotic and stressful. In foster care, sometimes you can’t tell the difference between the sky and the water. You go through seasons where you take in so much water that you don’t know if your head is above or below. The only prayer I had in those first few weeks was, “Help. Help us Lord. We don’t know what we are doing.” But the Holy Spirit was there the whole time. It was our job to listen and follow.