The Foster Care Journey

As I sit here, sipping my coffee (the third cup of the day), I’m watching this darling 11-month-old scoot around on his bottom, exploring my dining room floor. He gazes out our patio window, bangs on the glass, and looks up at me with a grin. I didn’t name him, I wasn’t present when he was born, and I didn’t even know his tiny body was still developing in his mother when we answered the call for our first foster placement, his sister. She wasn’t even a year old when she came to our home one cold evening just days before Christmas. She and I looked at each other wide-eyed, both trying to figure out what just happened.

The next couple weeks (and really the last year) mostly are a blur with bits mixed in of very distinct memories of firsts. The first time we met, the first time I saw her mom walk into the DCS office, the first time I handed her over to the caseworker for a visit and realized I have no control over any of this, my first time attending court (sweating and shaking), and the first time I realized there is another side to the story which includes a mother who is broken over losing her children.

Looking back to how everything began, this path for our lives was completely unexpected. Life was comfortable in every sense of the word and I wasn’t looking to take on any new challenges. I like peace, schedules, ease and predictability as much as the next person. However, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing something God was calling us to.

One Sunday while worshipping, God gave me the word “orphan.” I knew immediately that God had given me this word as the answer to my prayers for direction. I shared this with my husband Andy and we decided to pray and wait for more clarity. Every spare moment I had for the next few months went into Google searches, blog reading, and trying to figure out which countries we could be eligible to adopt from. I was consumed with equal parts excitement and terror.

One distinct memory is when Andy came home from work and asked me what I thought about foster care. I’d love to say that I jumped up from my spot on the couch and yelled, “Yes! That’s it!” but that isn’t what happened. The truth is, my response probably sounded something more like, “Eek! I don’t think so.” My husband works in a field where children entering into foster care is a reality he sees on a regular basis. He had a glimpse into the world where children were broken, used, abused, and forgotten. But I didn’t. As much as I hate to admit, my mind naively went to fire starters and horror stories.

The next few months included many nights of sleeplessness as I wrestled with all of this and worried how it could change our (comfortable) lives. I remember asking God to shift my heart if this is really what he wanted us to do. Over time, he did just that and although I still had reservations, my excitement also grew. I began to recognize how God could use us as he worked healing in parents and children, how we were going to step out of our position of complacency and into a place of reliance on his strength. He would use sermons and passages in His word to show me that following after him meant to love other sacrificially, to leave behind ideas of what I thought life should look like and trust that his plan is better. He helped me see that I was going to have to lean up against his promises if I was going to make it through this. So, we signed up, we started classes, let DCS invade our lives, and we became licensed foster parents.

This time as a foster parent has brought me to some of the most challenging and exhausting days of my life thus far, but it’s also been filled with God showing me his faithfulness over and over and over again. He’s softened our hearts to birth parents who are struggling and is teaching us what it looks like to love them well.

When we were researching foster care I would hear again and again how important it was to have a support system. My hope was that they were all wrong because we just didn’t have that. Most of our family lives out of town and we really didn’t know many others who were pursuing this path. A few months into fostering, other families in our church started to feel the call to foster and now we have an amazing community walking through this together. When our littlest came to us as a newborn I knew three children under three years old was going to kick me in the rear and wasn’t quite sure how I was going to manage. I prayed that God would bring me help and within a day multiple people had reached out to me letting me know they would love to come once a week to help with the kids, rock the baby, clean my house, bring meals and provide material needs such as a car seat and clothing. We now have an amazing Care Community that loves us well providing childcare, weekly meals, and prays with us for these kids.

I will end with this…in my weakness I can convince myself I’m not cut out for this. Some days I believe the lies that God picked the wrong girl, that it is too challenging and that so many others are doing it better. But then he reminds me of his truth. He knows exactly what he is doing and remains sovereign over every bit of this, even the parts that I don’t understand. It perhaps is one of the most humbling experiences to realize that he chose me to be in the story of these little lives. That he trusts me with this mission and can use me with all my imperfections to bring beauty to this broken world.

Katie Shriner is a mom to one biological child and two foster children.  She has a heart for the vulnerable children, families, and child welfare workers in our city.  She is the Foster Care Team Leader for the Live 1:17 Ministry.