Joy in Foster Care
Long ago, I was one of the fools who thought that foster children become immediately happy the moment they’re removed from their damaging homes. They must be relieved and thankful, even joyful… right?
Kids who are removed from their homes are often angry and scared about being separated from everything they know, even if what they know is harmful to them. They’re not thankful. They’re not happy. And even though they might feel a sense of relief about certain things, they’re still feeling a new round of fears and anxieties about being someplace new.
Walking into a foster home rips off of an old, dirty bandage that was hiding an ugly wound.
Joy is often very hard for foster kids to come by. They can feel situational happiness, thankfulness, excitement, relief, or whatever else, but those feelings are temporary, and they’re often laced with grief. Joy is something different. It’s a contentment deep within us, a state of being, that comes from the refusal to be defined by our circumstances.
Paul speaks about joy in the Bible during situations that are certainly not enjoyable. Peter talks about joy that is “inexpressible.” Both times, it is described as something unchangeable because it’s based on an unchanging God, rather than shifting circumstances.
For kids who come from homes of abuse or neglect, circumstances have been the only thing that ever really mattered to them. Joy has always been attached to conditional terms because nothing was ever dependable.
Their circumstances often become their identity.
As a foster mom, I went through a time where I felt almost no hope that my foster daughter would ever find real joy in her life. I knew she could feel the emotions of happiness and excitement, but I didn’t know if she would ever find the stability that joy in Jesus brings.
But as time has gone on, God has shown me that there is hope, yet. Joy is attainable for her. It only requires a shift in the place that joy is found. She cannot find her joy in me or what I provide for her. She cannot find it in people, food, sports, school, achievement, pets, or therapy.
“Joy that is inexpressible” can only be found in the Father, and that joy can reach her no matter where human sin has forced her to go.
Over the past six months, I’ve witnessed firsthand the growing of joy within my foster daughter. She feels more freedom to be her true self with each week that passes. She chose to be baptized last month. She is more honest about her thoughts and feelings. She lies less, manipulates less, and is overall less scared of life. Her understanding of who God is seems to be growing, and the fruit of that is joy.
The one aspect of her joy that I didn’t expect was the growing of MINE along with hers.
If you think I’m saying, “Oh, seeing her happy has made me so happy,” that’s not what I mean at all. Remember, we’re not talking about happiness. We’re talking about JOY. If my joy is dependent on hers, then it isn’t unchanging and founded in the Lord.
What I’m saying is that my joy was a lot shakier than I realized. Out of complete necessity, I had to take a long, hard look at where I found my validation and contentment this year. I thought I could be deeply happy in Christ, no matter what my circumstances were, but I was wrong. Fostering a little girl who lived through unspeakable trauma showed me a lot about who I think God is and whether or not I can find joy in Him.
Could I really stand next to a God who allowed my girl to be abused and neglected, and feel joy in Him? Could I really choose His joy when she was writing me notes about how she wanted to die? Could I believe that joy was real when this beautiful little human was hiding under my coffee table, weeping, because she was afraid that my husband would beat her? Could I feel joy in the Lord when this girl was screaming at my biological children that she “f***ing hates” them?
Reaching a place of joy with the Lord has been a JOURNEY this year.
I’ve yelled at Him, wept in front of Him, questioned Him, begged Him to change her life, ignored Him, and argued with Him many, many times over. The number of nights I’ve spent crying, asking Him why He allowed her life to become so hard, are probably innumerable. And then I’ve woken up in the morning to greet her with a fake sense of confidence before she left for school.
This year, I had to learn that my foster daughter’s joy is not my joy. I cannot be responsible for whether or not she reaches unchanging joy—although I can encourage it—and I can’t hang my joy on whether or not she does.
When I watch her open gifts for her birthday, I’m allowed to feel knock-you-off-your-feet giddiness, but I cannot allow my joy to come from that moment. And on the flip side, when I take my girl to Disney World and she tells me the whole place is boring and stupid, I can’t let that Steal my joy. I am allowed to feel sad and disappointed, but I can’t let it shake my faith in what God will do.
What has brought me real joy in this season of life as a foster parent has been seeing my girl choose Jesus at the baptistry last month, even though she’d never heard the Lord’s name a year before. I found joy in watching my girl’s biological mother fall to her knees during a sermon about being broken in order to be made whole because I know that moment came from Jesus. I found it in seeing my girl choose not to let anger spew out of her mouth because peace is a fruit of the Spirit. It has been watching my husband wait patiently for five months before giving our girl a hug because he knew she needed time. There have been so many moments of profound joy in my foster-parenthood that have lived and breathed the Word of God.
I have discovered that my joy can only come from the faith that Christ will completely redeem my daughter’s story by giving her the grace to grow in hope because He loves her.
He is love.
He is faith.
He is redemption.
He is grace.
He is hope.
He is JOY.