It all started the summer of 2009 when my wife saw a billboard on Highway 59 north of Gulf Shores, Alabama advertising the need for Foster families. She looked over at me and said, “We should do that.” I looked back at her and said, “We shouldn’t do that.” Over the next several years my wife (Rachael) would bring up the idea of becoming a foster family. She told me she felt called by God (trump card!). Still I rejected the idea for numerous reasons too many to list here (Okay, I really didn’t have that many reasons, but it seemed like it!). Through our journey of faith God placed sign after sign in our life until one day sitting on the beach in 2011 I finally broke.
My children were building sandcastles in the sand with buckets we had brought from home. There was only one problem. All three children had a bucket and there was still one bucket available. There in the sand was an unused bucket, waiting for a fourth child, a foster child. This singular bucket became an overwhelming image of God’s calling for our family to jump! And jump we did completing all the necessary tasks to be certified by DHR as Foster Parents. I must share that our plan from the beginning was to be a temporary home for children who needed us.
On May 18, 2012, a beautiful, eight week old baby boy came to live with us. We were scared. We weren’t sure if we could do this. We looked at each other as if to say, “What have we done?” I mean we have three children of our own, but this was different. We literally took in a little “stranger” into our home. We did not know his family or his situation. We did not know what he liked or didn’t like. All we knew to do was to love him like he was our own child. And so we did.
We went back to “baby” mode! Changing diapers, washing bottles, baby strollers, car seats, losing sleep, and rocking him at midnight became our new normal. Our children helped in so many ways. Kaylee (16) did a lot more babysitting when called upon. Patrick (7) became our “gopher” fetching anything we needed all over the house. Caitlin (5) loved having a little brother to play with and look after. Our home went back to baby proof so as to keep this little guy safe. Everyone knows that when a baby is in the house, the baby is in charge. From day one this new baby ruled the roost! We grew as a family both numerically and spiritually. We have witnessed many of his “firsts” during his first year of life. Over the past 14 months this baby went from a stranger to part of our family. Even the way our children pray to God has changed.
This baby is no longer just a foster child. He is our son. Let me explain. His biological parents are waiting on him. They love him dearly and want to raise him. That is a beautiful thing! But that is also a difficult thing to emotionally handle 14 months later. You see, this baby boy has taught me that family is so much more than what we often think. Its not merely “biological” connections that make a family, but when you are in Christ you are introduced to the “christological” connections of God’s family. When you are in Christ, God’s family becomes your family. This baby is part of God’s family. His parents are part of God’s family. That means this baby and his parents are “my” family too. They are my brother and sister in Christ. This baby and his parents share the same blood from the cross that I do. In that way, blood is thicker than water and even thicker is the blood from the cross!
I love this baby boy with all my being. I did not know that was possible. I figured I could say goodbye because he was never going to be mine. But my heart is breaking because I know that love is not determined by my blood; love has already been determined by the blood of Jesus. I love this boy. And now I have to let him go. I have to let him grow. I never thought the first child to leave our home would be my fourth child. Its not suppose to be that way. The first born is the first to leave, but not in our family. We will say goodbye in a matter of days. We will pack up his things. We will say prayers. We will give hugs and kisses. We will say goodbye to our “son.”
For 427 days we have loved him like our own. I will never forget his smile. I will never forget the way he buried his face into my chest and the nights I rocked him. I will never forget watching my wife swing with him and the walks in the neighborhood. I will never forget his first birthday party. I will never forget taking him to Stone Mountain, Disney World, and The Grand Hotel. I will never forget the funny faces, funny noises, and funny moments that my “son” brought into my life. I will never forget his laughter. Though we are not “biologically” connected, we are “christologically” fused together forever by the blood of the Lamb. And so I carry my cross, I carry this broken heart, I carry the pain of knowing we are nearing the end. I carry the blessing of this present suffering.
At the same time, I am overjoyed for his parents. To raise a child is a gift from God. There is nothing more rewarding in all the earth than to be entrusted with the next generation in your home. His parents love him. I am excited for them! Our calling as foster parents was to provide a temporary home. We have done that for this child. However, we did not realize that temporary housing would set up a permanent home in our hearts. As our 16 month old makes the transition back to his parents, there is joy and sorrow.
I’m still learning that this walk with Jesus around the Sea of Galilee is no easy walk. My heart has been stretched and opened in new ways. My love for people has grown. My love for my city and her children has grown. My love for my own family has grown. My love for my wife has grown. God’s love is so much bigger than we know.
So, I will continue to pray everyday for my “son” that he will know the depth of Jesus’ love for him. I will pray that he will know God’s plan for him to prosper in this life. I will pray that he will receive a good education. I will pray because that is all that is left for me to do. That just may be God’s final lesson of the last 14 months of my life – Prayer is enough when you trust that God is enough.
And all of this happened because of a lonely sand bucket on the beach. God, my God, keep bringing “buckets of love” into my life.
Do it again Jesus, do it again!