Moments of Delight and Heartbreak as Foster Parents

A month or so ago, we had the privilege of hearing from soon-to-be Intown members Lisa and Jake McClain about their experience serving as temporary foster parents for children with an urgent need for housing. These children often join the McClain family for worship at Intown so it was a real joy to hear more about their experience. They shared in an interview format about their journey as well as how Intown Church can participate. Here is the transcript:

So, first of all, what led you to consider being foster parents? 

For me (Lisa), the idea of fostering was born through grief and started in a very selfish place. We have had several miscarriages over many years – all of which led me down a path of exploring unconventional ways to add to our family. The first thoughts of foster care were definitely about bringing a child into our family permanently.  

Over the course of two years, I began to realize that my initial intentions were somewhat self-serving. Instead of bringing in foster children to address my desires for children, we started seeing it as an opportunity to help vulnerable kids and their families. We could serve together to model Christ’s love and God’s grace for us. And so it began…

We started certification last summer and became foster parents in the fall of 2017. Our first weekend “on call” we received twin 2 year olds! 

We need to add the very big disclaimer that we have only done short-term, emergency placements with children 0-3 years old who have minimal behavioral challenges. We have not experienced the much more difficult task of caring for children with severe complications. Yet, even with these stipulations, we have hosted 8 kids in our home so far.

It's probably safe to assume that you've experienced both challenging and joyful moments in this journey, are there examples of heartbreak and beauty that you can share? 

Yes! Challenging examples would include:

  • A four year old girl being terrified that a slightly raised voice means she’ll be hurt by an adult. She was so afraid to be in trouble that she lied about accidentally sneezing on one of us. 
  • Toddlers showing signs of never having been read to, spoon fed, or given much face-to-face interaction. 
  • Seeing children's rotten teeth and having no experience with brushing. 
  • Kids beginning to call me "mom" within a day or two of arriving in our home.
  • Kids sharing descriptions of domestic violence between parents and their own sexual abuse. 

But, there are beautifully-sweet moments as well:

  • Little girls being overcome with joy over new clothing; one girl literally jumped off her chair to come give us a hug after seeing new clothes.
  • Toddlers learning to blow kisses and sit for reading books.
  • Kids telling Elijah (our son) they love him.
  • Watching kids soak up the encouragement and love; it’s a much more visible and dramatic reaction compared to kids who have been properly cared for all along!
  • Most of our kids have gone on to live with relative foster placements. Often, these extended family members are so grateful to have a caring family watch over their loved-one until they are allowed to do so themselves.

So, how has God been particularly present to you in these experiences?

We've been able to see the gospel and God's care for us more clearly. We technically don’t owe these kids anything (and they’re often not the easiest to take care of), yet we are pursuing them and showering them with love at God’s prompting. I have never been more constantly-reminded of God’s love for me and his pursuit of me. The sacrifices we make for foster kids is nothing compared to God’s sacrifice of his son for our sake.

Also, we were initially concerned over the impact of this on Elijah, but he has been an asset and is loving the whole process! We have come to see that Elijah’s personality was “made for this” without much effort or coaching on our part. We also seen that his presence has made our home less scary for the kids. And, I couldn’t imagine a better way to be teaching the gospel to Elijah.

God has consistently reminded me that he loves these kids more than I do – they are his children and I can trust him with them. Rescuing foster kids is God’s work and it’s not all on our shoulders. We are called to do our part but to not be overwhelmed by the task. He has also reminded us to have love and grace for the families; they need God too, and our goal in this is to be helpers and not to pass judgment. 

So, what are some ways that your church - Intown can support the foster care community?

Obviously we can all pray for the kids, families, and workers involved in the foster care system. This is a very needy population. 

We can also donate new items or good-condition used children’s clothing to With Love Oregon. Imagine a kid coming with zero belongings and supplies and then having a volunteer bring you nearly everything you need – to your door! Imagine how welcomed a child feels when they have their own clothing that fits well and looks nice.

We can volunteer with Oregon's Department of Human Services. You can volunteer as an "Office Buddy" welcoming children to DHS or prepare "Welcome Boxes"  which are given to kids who first enter a DHS facility waiting for foster home placement (toothbrush, snacks, toys, night light, short note of encouragement). 

You can also volunteer with either of these organizations to help and encouraged their overworked staff. And, they can assist you in helping out current foster families by offering temporary childcare so that these parents can get a break. 

I don’t want you to hear from me that being a foster parent is easy. It is very challenging. Do your homework, think about the needs of your own life and family and be informed about the challenges. Being a foster parent is not easy…but I can’t think of many things that are more worthwhile. It has changed our lives for the better.