Lessons Learned in Foster Care

[Editor’s note: This short talk was given as the first talk at a recent gathering of Cities Church members who are seeking to care for the endangered children of our cities.]

Thanks so much for being here tonight for this first of its kind meeting on foster care. I want to just mention again, right away, that this is a critical need in our cities. I dropped some numbers a couple weeks ago in the sermon, and they are still current.

  • 16,600 children and young adults experienced out-of-home foster care in 2017 
  • on an average day, there were 9,900 children in care, for reasons of parental drug abuse, to allegations of neglect or physical abuse. (1,100 of these children are in Ramsey County; 1,845 are in Hennepin)
  • Due to the recent rise in opioid and methamphetamine addiction, the removal of children from homes for parental drug abuse increased from 17 percent of all new placements in 2013 to 29 percent of all new placements in 2017.
  • So 29% of kids in foster care is because of the opioid epidemic

Why Start with Data?

There’s a couple reasons why I want to start with this data. 

First, is that the problem is deep and complex. Caring for endangered children is one part that is desperately needed, but it’s still one part. Healthy homes with no drug use so that children are not in danger is another part — and before long, if you keep following that trail, the best and only solution to this crisis is the gospel of Jesus Christ spoken to and lived in front of and believed by every single person in our state. The reason that this crisis exists is because we live in a broken world and we have broken neighbors who do not treasure Jesus and do not follow Jesus, and so, because we do, because we were broken but made whole, we want to help them. We want to care for them by ultimately giving them Jesus. So when you hear the overwhelming data, think: this is deep — it’s gospel deep. 

Second, the data means that one meeting on Sunday night like this is not going to solve anything. This meeting is like one crack in the wall, that over time, with a lot more of the same thing, really starts to chip away at the wall and make a difference.

I know a lot of you are doing work right now with endangered children. So think of this meeting as all of us coming together and taking a swing at the wall with a little more force. We’re chipping away at this stone wall, and it’s going to take time. But it’s time that starts now. This is part of that

And here’s the plan for tonight, I’m going share a little more about my family’s story, and then three things we’re learning. And then Kate Etter, who works with the organization, Together for Good, is going to come up and share, and then we’ll close with a little Q&A. 

What Are We Doing?

Okay, so what are we doing? 

So to share a little of our story, we need to start in Psalm 10:16–18. I’ll read it for you: 

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Several years ago, not long after we moved to Minneapolis, I was at the Caribou Coffee right off of Washington Avenue, and I was reading this psalm, and I knew then that we would eventually adopt. Melissa has always had a heart for children, and caring for children in need, but that was the moment when it clear to me, because of verse 17 — “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed . . .”

So God hears the children, he hears their needs and their cries, and he says that he will do justice for them, but how? How will God do justice to the fatherless?

Through you and me. 

So I said Okay, whatever that means, I’m in. And Melissa is already in!

And then we spent time with Tim and Abbey Cain, a couple out in San Diego. Tim is the pastor of Kaleo Church there, and he and Abbey are aggressively giving their lives to care for endangered children. And Melissa and I spent a couple days with them, and heard about what God is doing in them and through them, and we walked away ready to go. The biggest takeaway from that time, and this was really in Melissa’s heart (she can tell this part better than me) — but it’s that we talk a lot about the realness of Jesus at my house, but hanging out with Tim and Abbey, it was just so clear that Jesus is real to them. And we want that. So Melissa is like: let’s do this. So started the process.

We decided to go through Ramsey County, and we did the application in the fall of 2015, and the classes throughout the spring of 2016, were finally licensed in August 2016, and got the phone call December 7 about a little girl born on the streets in Minneapolis, and we went to Children’s Hospital and brought her home. And she’s now our daughter. A month later, on January 4, a little boy was born in St. Paul, and we got the phone call, and we picked him up from Children’s in St. Paul, and we’re in the adoption process with him right now (hopefully by the fall).

So that’s our story so far. We’re maxed out with seven children right now, but that’s how we got here. And it’s not that impressive. 

It really isn’t. And this is a major point I want to get across tonight. Sometimes I think we can have these epic notions about foster care and adoption, and we can think it’s some crazy-hard, super-spiritual decision, but it’s really not. Melissa and I like to say that God kind of tricked us into this. 

We didn’t wake up one day and say: Hey, sweetie, you know this thing with just five kids is a piece a cake, let’s add a couple more babies with special needs into the mix. We’re not spiritual enough to think that sort of thing. Instead, we saw one way we thought we could help, so we took that step. Then we saw another way, so we took that step. And the next thing we knew, we had two babies in our home who needed permanent placement. They needed a real mom and dad, and by that point, it was a no-brainer. So we didn’t stand here and think: we should do that. Instead it was one step, then another, and then we began to see that God is writing a story here, and we see that he’s doing an amazing work, not us. We pretty much just showed up and said okay. 

Three Lessons We are Learning

And that gets to a few lessons we’ve been learning. Let me give these to you quickly:

1. It matters what paths you walk. 

This is another point about the non-impressiveness of caring for endangered children. It’s that most people, all slightly decent people, will help a child they see in need. For example, say you’re walking down the sidewalk tonight, and all of a sudden, off in the bushes, you hear crying. And you follow the sound, and there, behind the bushes, is a little baby all alone, with no one to care for her. Most people will not say Meh, and walk away from that child. Any decent person will do what they can to help that child. 

And well here’s the thing: there are children like that all over our cities, but we will never see them unless we walk on the right paths. Unless we put ourselves in those places where we hear about their needs, guess what? We will not hear about their needs. So it matters what paths you walk. Such a big part is just knowing the needs, and what kind of help we could offer. Kate is going to talk more about that in a minute.

2. Endangered children are more like you than they are different from you. 

And say this because I really want to push back on the whole idea that foster parents, or adoptive parents, get to be like God for the children under their care. I understand the point in that we model God’s fatherly compassion, but that’s not the primary way to think about it. 

Instead, I think it’s better to think of ourselves as like these children, as those who know what it’s like to be left alone, to be without hope, to be desperate for help. And because we’ve found help, because God has rescued us, we want these children to be rescued too. 

This became clear to me after we brought Ava home back in December 2016. I write all my kids letters, and this is one I wrote her December 10, 2016. This captures what I’m trying to say:

One thing that has become clear to me in the couple days since you’ve been with us is that I have done nothing great. We’ve done no great thing here. You and me are more alike than we are different, and God has done the great thing in rescuing us both. He has done the great work, and I’m not trying to be him to you. I want him to be him to you. But me — I’m like you, and you like me, and you were in need. How then could I not love you? That is what makes the most sense. This is not great, it’s easy.

I’m going to give these letters to Ava one day, and I want her to know that her dad loving her was not a great and hard thing. It was easy.

Endangered children are not children on the outside, and loving them is not something great and hard. We are more like them than we are different. 

3. Satan hates children, and if you care for them, he hates you. 

This is just a fact in history. Satan hates children, and he always has. We can see this in the Bible, from Pharaoh slaughtering the infants in Egypt, to the sacrifice of children to the god Molech, to the New Testament and Herod killing all the boys in Bethlehem. 

Russ Moore makes this point in his book Adopted for Life, he says that every time the demonic powers forcefully oppose Jesus, “babies are caught in the crossfire.” 

Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses. (63) 

The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matthew 25:4045), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself. (63–64)

Satan has waged a war against children in our world since Genesis 3, and when we care for children, we are picking up arms against him in that war. So don’t count it strange, brothers and sisters, if crap starts happening. Satan hates you. He hates us. And he wants to take us all down. 

Melissa and I have had a few hard things happen in our lives and our extended family us over the past 7–8 months, and they’ve had an unexpected, painful impact on us. And that impact, that effect, has been exacerbated with a spiritual dynamic. It has been spiritual warfare. So we need y’all to pray for us, and I need to be straight with you, that there is no neutral territory here. The enemy is not going to be okay with what your doing. But greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (see 1 John 4:4). Psalm 97:10, 

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!  He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.