Trusting in a plan that we don’t know (and can’t control)
As the year comes to a close, our family is starting to reflect on the year that was, and laying out our hopes and dreams for the year to come. It’s beyond clear that 2020 will be forever marked by COVID-19, and how it has undoubtedly uprooted all of our lives and made this year challenging beyond measure. Throughout it all, we have been counting our blessings — thankful for our health, stable incomes, food security and so much more that is not a given for so many people. We do not take these things lightly. Although it has been a challenging year, we have seen so much joy and try to look back on all the positives that have come out of this time.
Perhaps the largest thing we have to celebrate is the unbelievable growth and transformation we have seen in the three girls in our care. We feel incredible love for all of them. We are not only cheering for their success in life, no matter where it takes them, but doing everything in our power to give them a firm foundation and to prepare them for whatever lies ahead. This is no easy feat in the current times, especially given their unique circumstances of being in foster care. Although we are far from perfect, we work our hardest to provide the best life we know how for them in our home, and put their needs before our own. This past Sunday, our Head Pastor posed the following questions for everyone in the congregation to wrestle with: “Do you trust God’s timing this year? Do you trust His plan?”
These questions hit us hard. Timing and planning are two of the most challenging aspects of foster care. More than once we have prepared our hearts for a transition, only to find out it was not happening. More than once we have prepared our hearts and house for a placement, and it hasn’t happened. As a DCF core foster/adoption home, we serve as both short term foster parents, and potential long term resources for children in need. We prepare for rapid changes, but accept extreme delays. One of the more difficult aspects of our role is that we don’t determine the time or the plan. The biological family is responsible for their own reunification pathway and reaching their milestones. The social workers file the paperwork that is necessary for everything from a family vacation to the adoption or reunification process. The lawyers meet with the kids to learn about their wants and needs, and they are the ones that present the case to the judge. The therapist, and clinicians do the evaluations and write the reports that have legal standing in court. And, of course, the judge ultimately decides the future plans given all the information presented by the aforementioned parties.
Given the complexity of the situation, we have had people (lawyers, therapists, workers, etc.) drop information on the girls that proves to be inaccurate, uninformed, or falsely promised. Timelines have been given, and been far surpassed. They have been told different things from their workers than from their lawyers than from their parents. We have handled disappointment after disappointment, and confusion after confusion. We’ve heard time and time again that this is how “these things work” but one way or another, we know that our girls need and deserve answers. Our girls have been with us for over a year, and this is far too long for them to be living in limbo and is causing further confusion about where they “belong”. We are all left with the challenge of trusting a plan that we don’t fully know, understand, or have much of a say in. As foster parents, when we commit to love and care for children, we are surrendering so much control and placing it in the hands of others.
During foster care training, foster parents are constantly told to treat their foster children as if they were your biological children and make sure they feel just as valued as if they were. We believe this is our mission as foster parents, but it does prove to be challenging, when as foster parents, we don’t even have the right to make a decision about simple things. We had to spend weeks advocating to take our girls on vacation with us and all of our girls have been put in uncomfortable positions about not being allowed to have their picture taken for school or camp newsletters they wanted to be in with their peers. We all want kids in care to feel normal and like their peers, but they are surrounded by constant reminders that this is not true. As foster parents we are also surrounded by constant reminders that our life is a few steps away from “normal”.
COVID-19 has increased what is asked of us as foster parents. One illustration of this reality is visits. Prior to COVID, family visits happened once a week. The children were picked up and dropped off. Once COVID began, the expectation was set that these visits needed to happen virtually in our home (a move we fully endorsed as a way to maintain family connection while keeping everyone safe). However, it was a huge shift for us as a foster family. We used to have separation between visits and our home — now their families are in our space, in our lives, multiple times a week merging the two worlds our girls find themselves caught in. Due to the “convenience” of technology, the lines between foster and biological parents and the kids have been completely blurred. On top of that, we consistently field multiple calls a week from their workers and our worker, as well as sporadic calls from lawyers, guardian ad litems (GALs), and therapists. In ways, we are thankful that these visits have brought us into our children’s world in a manner that we never were able to go before. It has provided us a new perspective. We are now able to see first hand the bond, memories, and love that they have with their siblings, and parents. We now get to engage with their family by sharing updates, and milestones during our weekly interactions. But, they also serve as an unintentional daily reminder that we are caring for other people’s children. A reminder that we are not the ones determining the plan for the girls.
The Prophet Habakkuk of the Old Testament cried out for answers in his time of doubt, disbelief, and struggle. The Lord’s answer was one of hope; “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3). The uncertainty surrounding foster care makes it easy to throw up our hands in frustration. The process at times seems broken, and unfair. But, do we trust God’s timing this year? Do we trust His plan? Are we willing to “wait for it”?
These questions will continue to sit with us and challenge us as long as we are foster parents. We don’t make the plan, and we don’t determine the timeline. But, we should not question the ways of God. Rather we need to rest in the assurance that His timeline and His plan is always right. He alone has the ability to supply the answers to our questions. In fact, so much of our questioning stems from a problem with our understanding, not a problem of His plan. For us, trusting in God’s timing and His plan is simply accepting that He does have a plan even when we have our own doubts and that He is in control even when we feel out of control. And, equally important, is the implied message within the book of Habakkuk that we should bring those questions, wonderings, fears, and doubts directly to God — where He will hear them with grace.
We know that plans and timelines may change very quickly given the realities of foster care. We accept that the long term plan is complicated and known only to Him. As we enter 2021, we will do so with the humble and hopeful prayer that Habakkuk closes with after he shares his complaints with God: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). So, yes, we do trust in God’s timing, and we do trust in His plan. We know that we will be utterly amazed. He will do something in our days that we would not believe even if we were told (Habakkuk 1:5 paraphrased).