May is Foster Care and Adoption Awareness Month. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’re looking for new insight and understanding about kids in foster care and the parents who help raise them. I’ve been a foster parent for several years now. How can you support foster families? How can you love foster kids? My foster daughter taught me pretty much everything I needed to know about foster care awareness.
She has scars. You can stare at our foster daughter for as long as you like, but you won’t see them. They’re too deep to show on the surface. It’s probably safer that way because if they were visible, you’d do one of two things. You’d stare in disbelief because children shouldn’t have scars, not like that. Or, you’d look away in horror because children shouldn’t have scars, not like that.
Usually, when people see her, she doesn’t match her story. Not at all. She looks like the all-American 4-year-old girl. She finds joy in the simplest of things. She’s the girl who stands in front of the escalator at the mall waiting for that perfect step. She giggles and claps her hands at her accomplishment the entire length of the ride until she broad jumps off at the end and then she does it again. Like I said, when you see her, she doesn’t match her story. Until she does.
Until you’re walking in the mall parking lot and you feel her tiny hand release yours and she runs ahead of you toward the car. You tell her, “Hold my hand.” She smiles her rebellious smile and giggles. “Hold my hand,” you say, still with a sing-songy ring in your voice. She looks over her shoulder, smiling at you through the puffy pink hood of her jacket. She runs a little farther ahead. She’s enjoying a game of tag with her newly made friend. Her little eyes squint from the sun as she looks up to you. Out of fear for what can happen to stray kids in busy parking lots, you sternly say, “I said you need to hold my hand.” There’s no melody in your words this time.
Her eyes, now wide open, dart up to look at you.
Joy, in an instant, is replaced by fear.
The sound of the occasional passing car accompanies the wind, filling the air that had just been occupied by her laughter.
The corners of her mouth tug downward as she swallows hard enough for you to see it.
And for the first time, you see them: her scars.
You put her in her car seat and try to make conversation. She stares out the window. The setting sun gives just enough light to reflect off the tears on her cheeks. She hasn’t said a word to you in 10 minutes.
It makes sense. The last man she was around gave her her story. Her head slowly turns toward you. She looks down, then back up. She sniffs her runny nose and says, “I don’t like it when you get on to me.” Her lips draw downward again and her eyes dart.
You reach across the seat and take her hand. It barely wraps around the thick of your thumb. You tell her you’re sorry and you didn’t mean to upset her and you just want her to be safe.
She gets quiet for a few minutes. You choose not to push it. Then she says it again as she lets go of your thumb. “I don’t like it when you get on to me.” This time she continues.
“Cuz then you’ll yell at me.”
“Then you’ll hit me.”
“Then you’ll hurt my head.”
“Then you’ll throw me outside.”
The air feels thick as you fight to inhale. Each statement is a little louder. A little more emphatic. Infinitely more heartbreaking. She continues with her story, and you let her because you figure she needs a safe place to tell it. You wonder how long you’ve been crying and hope she hasn’t noticed.
So what do you need to know about foster care and adoptive families? We have scars. Let’s be honest. You have scars, too. We all do. We hide them well. Some we’ve earned, some we haven’t, but either way, they’re there. That’s why grace and compassion should be our go-to when dealing with everybody we meet, including those who gave us our scars. And yes, including those who scarred the children in our care. It isn’t always easy, but we must extend the biological family the same grace extended to us through Jesus. It says as much in Ephesians 4:32.
Ultimately, Jesus came to restore things back to their natural order, and that includes families. We’re not here to be heroes. We’re here to love people. All people. Scars and all.