I’ll never forget the fear and brokenness in 10-year-old Michael’s face the first time I met him one snowy afternoon three years ago. He and his new foster mother—my friend Bethany—had come to visit. I noticed the bruised wariness in Michael’s eyes, the desperate-to-be-invisible hunching of his slight body. As I bent to introduce myself, he flinched and shrank away, the telling reaction of a young life that had known more harshness and mistreatment than kindness.
“You could see the pain in his eyes. It was very sad. He was a lovable young boy,” Bethany recalled the other day as we shared a pot of tea. Memories of Michael swirled around us like the steam rising from our china cups.
Michael had been a sensitive child—helpful, caring, kind—but also faltering and unsure. “He was very needy, desperate for affection. He wanted to please in the worst way, but didn’t quite know how,” Bethany remembered.
Like many children in foster care, Michael had endured much. Bethany told me that he’d come from a very unhealthy family life and had been emotionally and physically abused. He was the scapegoat of his entire family, the child blamed for everything that went wrong. “His mother would often tell him she didn’t want him,” she said.
It was a heavy burden for a child. And, deeply hurting, Michael began acting out. He craved attention very badly and desperately tried to get it any way he could, including misbehaving. He became defiant and argumentative, even aggressive, in his foster home. He had intense crying meltdowns, especially following supervised visits with his parents. While the long-term goal was always for Michael to return to his family, these visits were difficult.
“After the visits he’d fall apart and sob,” said Bethany. “I’d hug him and tell him I loved him, that I accepted him exactly as he was. He was experiencing a safe, loving home for the first time, and I think he was having a hard time wondering why his birth family didn’t love him and treat him with kindness too,” Bethany reflected.
Day by day she poured her heart into caring for Michael. As winter passed, glimmers of healing began appearing like early garden shoots. The look in his eyes gradually became less guarded, and he began to smile more. As Michael’s foster family modeled positive behavior, Bethany saw him pay careful attention. She helped him understand the importance of considering others’ feelings and treating others the way he’d like to be treated.
Having structure and a healthy routine for the first time in his life helped immensely too. Little things were especially important—eating supper together every night, playing games as a family, a trip to the lake on a hot summer day. Bethany showed him what a home life should be. He began to develop a sense of both a family and a home, and these things began to make a difference for him. “It was a roller coaster at times, with many ups and downs,” said Bethany, “but he was absolutely worth it.”
Time flew, and before we knew it a year had passed. Then, with Christmas approaching, came the news that Michael would soon return to his family.
I will always hold close to my heart the last day I saw Michael, standing tall and confident, his eyes sparkling. As we exchanged Christmas gifts, delight wreathed his face brighter than the glittering lights on the Christmas tree.
The transformation was profound. While the road ahead was long and uncertain, written all over Michael’s face was the story of healing begun. For a year my friend had persevered through challenging days. Through her efforts Christ powerfully touched Michael’s life.
The past two years have not been easy for Michael. Just three weeks after moving home, Michael’s mother decided she didn’t want him. His social worker moved him to a new foster family, which didn’t last long. He has since lived with three other foster families.
But Bethany holds on to faith that the year of love her family spent with Michael will make an eternal difference in his life. She continues to pray for him, trusting the promise that God who “began a good work” in Michael will “carry it on to completion in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve long been familiar with Christ’s call to lay down our lives for others. But to see it played out in the life of a vulnerable child made a profound impact on me. It made me want to open my eyes to those in need, to the Michaels of the world. Our society often values certain people while disregarding those on the margins, people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. We so focus on our own lives that we often remain ignorant of others. I don’t want to live like that anymore.
In Canada and the United States alone, over 450,000 children are in foster care. Many of these children are longing and praying for “forever families.” While the need for loving foster and adoptive families is staggering, I believe even greater are the opportunities God has placed before us as Christians to step forward in faith to forever change the lives of children.
My friend Bethany will be the first to tell you it isn’t easy. She’ll also say it’s one of the most worthwhile things she’s ever done. “I believe God wants us to serve others, and this is my way of serving him,” she said simply. “It is truly a privilege to offer to children who have come from severe trauma and neglect a safe place to stay, food to eat, and love.”
As Jesus said in Matthew, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Could God be calling you to foster care or adoption?
If you believe God is asking you to consider foster care or adoption, start by gathering information. Contact your province or state’s department of children’s services for specific information and requirements in your jurisdiction.
- Focus on the Family provides invaluable information about adoption through Waiting to Belong (Canada) and Wait No More(United States).
- Check out the National Foster Parent Association; Adoption Council of Canada; and AdoptUSKids.
- Handbook on Thriving as an Adoptive Family by David and Renee Sanford has helpful ideas and suggestions.
With God all things are possible! Do not let obstacles such as age, disabilities, singleness, or finances automatically stop you. Remember that government financial support may be available. Bethany is a single mother. The author of this article has disabilities that would make physically caring for a small child difficult, but was blessed four years ago to adopt a (now) 14-year-old girl who is the light of her life.
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Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight