4 things we have learned in the uncertainty of foster care

June 3, 2020

In light of the coronavirus, we are all more familiar with living in uncertainty than we were a few months ago. Things that used to feel in control suddenly feel wildly opposite. For foster parents, this feeling of uncertainty strikes a familiar note. For many of us, we are living in a daily tension of loving where we are and preparing for an unknown future. 

This is National Foster Care Month. Throughout our five years as foster parents, my husband Ben and I have become more comfortable with the tension that we live in. While we still have moments that paralyze us because they catch us off guard, there are four things that we have learned about ourselves and God. These four lessons have helped us ride the crazy waves of this life we have been called to without feeling like we are all falling out of the boat (most days). 

1. We proclaim that God is in charge: We understand more fully that God made everything and therefore, is in charge of everything. 2 Chronicles 29:11 says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.” That includes the beautiful humans that we share our homes with for a time until they reunify with family members. I have to admit that we stole the phrase “God is in charge of everything” from our preschool program at church. It’s a mantra for our children, but it resonates deeply with me. 

It has been a little scary, but also strikingly important, to remember that our biological kids are not promised to us forever. I have beautiful friends whose children have not grown into adulthood. I am not promised a specific length of time to have any child in my home, but my job to disciple them remains true just the same. Life as a foster parent has taught me to love and serve more deeply each day, although I do not get it right nearly enough.

2. We do the next right thing in light of eternity: Foster care has taught us the importance of simply doing the next right thing and living for eternity, rather than constantly trying to manipulate or control things to go my way. Truth be told, I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember. I don’t do any of this through my own strength but constantly return to God for more grace, more strength, and more wisdom to make the next right decision or action. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 

Returning to him reminds me why we started praying about doing this in the first place. We don’t know the end of the story for each of the children who have passed through our home, but we do know the end of this world’s greatest redemptive story. We aren’t doing this because we are “good people” or superheroes. We are doing this for the ultimate end to the most epic tale. We’re doing this out of the deep affection that we have for God and to bring glory to him.

3. We rejoice in our affliction: As referenced above, foster care has revealed ugly parts of me—the need for control and the lack of peace I have when things aren’t in my control. Although sanctification is not why we entered into the world of foster care, God is still using it to sanctify me. We have learned that all of the valleys of foster care have ultimately led to the greater hope that Paul references in Romans 5:3-5, “We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance products proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

When I give myself over to anxiety, I am missing out on or forgetting the chance to grow in endurance, proven character, and hope. A passage that has ministered to me is John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The peace he gives is above and beyond any comfort I can feel from “being in control” of a situation or trusting human decisions about a foster care case. And because of Christ, we can rely on his peace and rejoice in all things. 

4. We trust God with timing, placement, and reunification: Finally, our family knows and values that the goal of foster care is reunification. People ask all the time if we know how long children in our home will stay. Although we carry a dual license for adoption, our family only does foster care. We primarily receive emergency placements, so we don’t know whether they will be with us for two days while they locate family members or if they will be with us for two years. We have had 20 placements, and each one has been different. 

And yet, regardless of the timeline, we believe that each child is in our home on purpose, for a reason. God’s timing is perfect, and even if it feels inconvenient or like our time together is too short, I know it matters to him. Out of all of the homes in our county, we get the privilege of receiving that placement call, for that specific child, and we trust that our heavenly Father knows best. After all, Scripture is true, “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psa. 145:9).

Will you join us?

If the unknown side of foster care is what has been holding you back from starting the process, I hope these words encourage you, for there is truly beauty in the uncertainty. And do you know who faces the most uncertainty? The children. The precious children who have been removed from all that feels familiar are the ones who are affected the most. 

My husband and I are convinced that if children who have experienced unspeakable trauma have to walk through days and weeks of unpredictability, then we can walk through seasons of unpredictability as well. If this speaks to your heart, contact your local foster care agency and see how you can get involved.

If foster care isn’t right for your family, consider other avenues of getting involved. Think about pursuing a matched adoption of children whose parents’ rights have already been terminated (typically older children or sibling groups). Or perhaps consider getting involved with organizations that work hard to keep families intact (Safe Families). Or, you can get involved in respite care to come alongside foster families. There are dozens of ways to care for children in foster care, their biological family members, and their foster families. And God will give you grace and display his glory in all of it. 

Sarah Clift Allen

Sarah Allen is a freelance business consultant and an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University. She and her husband have had the honor of having 20 delightful children who are in foster care live with them over the last five years. In her extra time, she leads a home group with her husband; … Read More