Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Some Things I Wish You Knew...

Written by Rachel Ashcraft 

The above photo was taken at Rachel's church, where members were invited to come forward and write how Jesus has broken the chains in their lives. One of their foster children wrote the words along the bottom edge "Jesus gave me a foster family."  Then he drew a picture of their family.

Things I want Christians to understand about Foster Care:
1. Our God is a God of reconciliation 

• Throughout the story of the Bible, God makes clear that he desires to reconcile his people to Him and to reconcile people to each other.

In a risky project He sent His son incarnate to earth to live and die for us. Then, through resurrection He invites each of Jesus’s disciples to follow the path of the cross - to live a crucified life so that Christ’s work of reconciliation in his kingdom may continue through us. The God of the universe invites us to join in his work of the kingdom. Was God’s way successful? Was it a good idea? What is worth it? In this time of the kingdom being here but not yet fully here - God has not succeeded by any earthly standard of success. Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” - Matthew 7. What if God had to have a certain “success rate” to make Jesus’s death and resurrection worth it to Him? Do we really appreciate and understand all God has done for us? Did that stop Him from recklessly pursuing us?

No, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” - Romans 5.

 • It seems that in the church we are often too concerned with numbers, with earthly definitions of success.

We are sinful and fearful. We fear that our homes will become unsafe, we fear that foster care will negatively impact our own families, we fear that the children in our care won’t be changed because of our efforts, we fear not making a difference, we fear the inevitable grief that comes from letting go, we fear having to get our hands messy walking with birth family.

We fear. But God says over and over to his people, “Do not be afraid.” 

He promises He will be with us - Do we believe Him?

2. Christ changes the story of family 

 • Much of the time people fear foster care and involving themselves with it because “how will it affect my family and kids?”

In the American church, we often idolize things that are meant to be good - but not our gods. Family is one of these - family is good - but it is not God. 

• Once, in an effort to understand family through God’s eyes - I studied each time family was discussed through the Bible and what I found rocked me to the core and challenged every goal I had for my life. You may think it’s silly I didn’t realize this before but be gracious with me - we are all works in progress. In the Old Testament, a high emphasis was placed on people’s biological families. Genealogies were important, the family blood was important. Miracles often included the birth of a biological child. This was the way God blessed and showed favor to his people - through their biological children. I assumed this continued in the New Testament but it doesn’t. The last miracle pregnancy that was desired was Elizabeth with John the Baptist - who came to prepare the way for Jesus. And, the very last biological birth miracle was an undesired pregnancy that brought about Jesus. After that, there are no more miracle births in scripture. There are guidelines for having a Christ centered family, but the emphasis is entirely on Jesus’s Kingdom and what I have come to call Kingdom Family. Everything is about bringing the good news of Jesus to the world and serving and sacrificing for others.

Jesus calls his followers is family and we are a family in Him. This narrative is so strong and the contrast from Old to New Testament so stark that I do not believe avoiding foster care or other ministry in an effort to make our own biological families lives comfortable will be met with much understanding from the Lord.

When I finished the study and had typed it up, I said to my husband, “&@^$, God is serious about this.” We were always going to be foster parents, “Later, once we’ve had our own kids and they’re older, when we’re a little more secure financially” and we realized, that wasn’t going to cut it. Life is a vapor and we can’t waste it pursuing our own comfort.

Jen Hatmaker says in Interrupted, “All of a sudden, I saw my exact reflection in Peter: devoted but selfish, committed but misguided. And that is not going to be enough. It won’t suffice to claim good intentions. Saying “I meant well” is not going to cut it. Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, to feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and least in nearly every book of the Bible. It will not be enough one day to stand before Jesus and say, “Oh? Were You serious about all that?” 

3. “I could never……”

This is just a pet peeve of foster parents.

Here’s the thing, we could never do foster care because: “we get attached, it’s too hard, the government is all in our business, I can’t handle all the behavior of kids from hard places” We get it - we don’t feel like we can do it either. 

But, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength and we are crucified with Christ and the life we now live - we live through faith in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. We just show up, we just continue to say yes despite feeling hopeless on our own, and God sees us through it. Of course, “you could never” but “God can always”.

I know the fear of loss, but we don’t just avoid life because we will one day die. We don’t avoid marriage because our spouse may die, we don’t avoid having children even though they may run away from our guidance, they may choose not to have anything to do with us, they may die a tragic and early death. Our lives are laden with grief and loss - we live in a broken world. But, trying to avoid loss does the opposite, it ensures it - because the only way to eventually avoid loss is to commit yourself to God’s Kingdom and restoration in his kingdom. Eventually, we lose everyone in our lives and the only hope is God’s Kingdom.

Saying, “I could never because I’d get too attached” limits the glory of the full restoration of God’s kingdom. We are trying to trust in ourselves to stay safe and happy instead of jumping all in with God. So what can we do? - God expects his people to join Him in the project of reconciliation and bringing about his Kingdom in it’s full glory. As the church body, we must remember that Jesus met us in our mess. We need to be ready to get messy with families that need Jesus just as we do. 

 --- Would you consider intentionally nurturing the foster families and the children they bring into their homes that attend your church?

Ask foster parents what they need. We all need different things- some of us need help with physical things like diapers, food, clothing. Some of us have spent night after night comforting a frightened child and we need someone to come sit with our kids at our home so we can take a nap. Some of us need someone to come sit and fold laundry with us, some of us need someone who’s approved to transport the children to visits, extracurricular activities. Some of us need help with childcare. Some of us need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. We pretty much all need people willing to meet us where we are. We are drowning in this ministry and sometimes even making it to a foster event is beyond what we are able to do. We are called to be a Kingdom family, and that means we must rely on intentional relationships and not just programming to love and uplift each other. Intentionally befriend a foster family and join their walk.

--- Would you consider noticing the lonely at your church? Step out of your comfort zone and away from the people you know, look around you, get off your phone. Search for the overwhelmed single mama, the special needs child who needs acceptance, the poor that may feel out of place, the person who’s fighting addiction, the scared child in foster care that has seen too much brokenness in their lives already, the foster family that isn’t sure how they are going to make it through the next hour?

---We are not all called to do the same things, we are meant to be a full body and not a collection of arms. Not everyone is meant to be a foster family, but everyone is called to work towards reconciliation especially among the least of these.

In America, the temptation is to make our churches a collection of appendixes - a group of people who were maybe relevant once, but have become so ingrained in what is safe and secure that we have lost our original purpose. Would you commit to praying daily for God to reveal the way he wants to use you in his kingdom?

And, would you pray for courage to follow Him where he calls you?

-- Christ is not safe, his path leads to death. If our lives look no different than the world around us, if we sacrifice only what costs us nothing, we are the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son - we want the father’s blessings but none of his character. Because the church is made of sinful people, we are tempted to become like the elder brother and not the Father. We want to judge the prodigal son and not work for and rejoice with his reconciliation. Let us be a people that seek out to restore the prodigal of our cities to the father and to ourselves. 

Would you pray for God to show you where in your life you may be behaving like an elder brother and not like the Father? Let us all seek to know more of the Father and to have our hearts broken for what breaks His?

Rachel Ashcraft and her husband, Aaron, are licensed foster parents in Birmingham, AL. She's thankful that Jesus met her in her own sin and mess and that He teaches us to love others in the same way.