When we made the decision to foster multiple children, I knew my heart would expand with love for hurting young ones. And it did, in greater ways than I could have ever imagined. Something else happened that took me a bit by surprise; my heart also expanded with great compassion for hurting, wounded parents.

It’s true that children come into foster care from extremely horrific circumstances. I’ve read some of those reports and their painful stories would bring you to tears. Children nearly killed and severely wounded in ways that would make your stomach churn.

But not all of them.

In our home we saw an array of reports on what led up to removal, but the truth is we would never know all the things that did, or did not, happen. What we did see were parents struggling with life. Sometimes they made evil decisions and sometimes they made poor decisions focused on self-care rather than child care. We also saw generations of woundedness begetting more woundedness.

My eyes were opened to many who’d lost hope and were desperate to know real love. If they didn’t know it, how could they give it?

This question would give me pause repeatedly as I learned to show love and grace to barren hearts in ways that were contrary to everything I’d known before. I’d be challenged to respond with gentleness in the midst of outrageous behaviors spurred by anger and hurt.

We learned how amazing this truth is; perfect love casts out all fear. {I John 4:8}

Learning to love in the midst of fear required total dependence on God, and it began a sequence of heart events that brought healing to myself and others. But by the grace of God.

 

Who Is My Neighbor

For most of our time fostering I held back the truth; I was afraid to meet & engage with biological parents. I was unsure about them getting to know me. I worried they would think I was doing a poor job and make a fuss with the case workers. While this may seem absurd, it happens and it adds more stress.

Ultimately though, I was concerned with my safety and that of my family. As far as I knew, at least one family was involved with dangerous ties. I figured distance was better.

God had other plans. Staying anonymous wasn’t happening.

One mother grieved the loss of her infant son who passed away in his sleep in another foster home. His siblings lived under my roof; I comforted them as I could. I also prayed for their mom and dad as they worked through grief.

Mom hugged me as she returned her children to my car after the funeral. She thanked me for taking care of them. I was surprised and humbled.

Another mama had her son removed for reasons that didn’t make sense. He ended up with us and I empathized with her. Her situation? That could have been me. Later, I met her and befriended her. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did she know Jesus, but she was saw the grace of God in her life to allow her son to be cared for in our family. She didn’t hold bitterness in her heart over his removal.

Instead, she thanked me for taking care of her son. 

After Christmas we visited a sibling group of five whom we cared for for fifteen months. We walked through some pretty intense struggles with them and watched God do miracles in their hearts and lives. When we traveled to see them again, for the first time in a year and a half, we visited with their mom and aunt. It was short but the interaction was still longer than any time we’d seen each other with a CPS worker in the middle.

Mom told me that when her youngest daughter heard we were coming she started packing her bags. She was determined to live with her “other mom.” My heart empathized deeply. How hard that must have been to hear, yet she moved past fear and encouraged her children to spend the day with us. Why? Because she believed they would benefit from staying connected and having a positive influence in their lives.

She and her sister thanked me repeatedly for caring for the children. I was deeply moved and incredibly humbled.

Jesus meets us in

 

Night after night as a foster mom, I let little ones know that they were fully loved by God. I wondered, do mom and dad know that Jesus loves them too?

I’ve been a single mom, tired and lonely.

I’ve been a yelling mom, afraid of CPS suddenly showing up ready to take my kids if I didn’t do better.

I’ve been exhausted and terrified in this whole parenting thing, that I’d mess the whole thing up.

What I remember most about the hardest years of homeschooling and raising young children is how much I wanted help. I needed a break. I longed for someone wiser and more capable than me to come in and care for my family for a few hours so I could sleep, or read a book, or just be alone somewhere quiet.

Even more, I would have loved for someone to come over and just have coffee with me in the middle of my mess. I longed for an understanding heart to show care in some way.

These mamas surprised me with their thankfulness. It affirmed my suspicions that they really wanted someone to talk to, to pray with and someone who would care.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He visited the sinners, which we all are. He met them right in the middle of their mess with a message of hope, true love and full redemption.

Friends, may we love others in this way. May we not be afraid to give love to those who are hurting, even, and especially, in the middle of their mess. Because really, we all need compassion, hope and love in the middle of our messes.

Jolene Underwood / Posts / Blog
Jolene Underwood is a faith warrior acquainted with many of life’s challenges as well as God's healing work. She is passionate about cultivating a life well-lived, because she knows the power of God to revive weary souls. She believes a well-lived life is one that goes from surviving to thriving, no matter what the circumstances are. Join her conversations of encouragement & faith at joleneunderwood.com and on social media at @theJoleneU
  • Meredith Bernard

    Such hard and beautiful truth, Jolene. I’ve been there…just needing someone to meet me in my mess. And I’ve had the pleasure of coming across others needing the same (just recently) and God has given me opportunities to meet them in their mess. We are all in a mess in one way or another…most days. And I’m beyond grateful and humbled that Jesus meets us daily in our mess, and loves us through it and loves us ANYWAY. Love you and so glad to see you around this beautiful table today. <3

    March 6th, 2015 13:11
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    • Jolene Underwood
      http://www.joleneunderwood.com/

      Thank you Meredith. For your friendship, your voice and how you live through the messes with eyes on Him. It’s inspiring. Blessings, friend.

      March 6th, 2015 19:14
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  • BlessingCounter – Deb Wolf
    http://countingmyblessings.com/

    Jolene, This grabbed my heart. We did infant foster care years ago. The gift of love to cover children and their parents is truly a thing of grace. Thank you so much for sharing your stories here. Blessings!

    March 6th, 2015 15:40
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    • Jolene Underwood
      http://www.joleneunderwood.com/

      Thank you Deb. My heart just connects with you now as I think of you caring for infants in foster care. Bless you!

      March 6th, 2015 19:15
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  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene

    in the midst of the mess, yes.

    thank you for sharing.

    March 6th, 2015 18:09
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  • Marcy Hanson

    I have skirted around this piece since you posted it. Because I knew how much it would resonate with me. When we started our journey we were bitter towards bio parents. Never in front of the kids, but behind closes doors. But the last few years have changed me. I don’t know my older kiddos parents, they were out of state or MIA when our adoptions happened. But I do know the babe’s and my heart aches for her. Thank you for loving on these parents and their kiddos, evwn on the hard, or really hard days. Thank you for opening your heart to hurt and changing lives, changing the world.

    March 7th, 2015 15:33
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    • Jolene Underwood
      http://www.joleneunderwood.com/

      You words are such a blessing to me Marcy. I know you get it and I understand your feelings. God bless you as you love your precious kiddos and pray for their bio parents. Thank you for bravely reading and sharing your heart here.

      March 8th, 2015 0:11
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  • Simone Dankenbring

    Loving in the middle of what seems like mess and horribleness to a kiddo is watching beauty from ashes. My husband and I are eagerly waiting an adoption placement through our state Oregon. I see the importance now of praying for the birth parents because there is lots of hard that happens when their kiddos are removed from their care. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

    March 7th, 2015 16:55
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    • Jolene Underwood
      http://www.joleneunderwood.com/

      Oh Simone, how exciting for you to receive an adoption placement soon. Thank you for stopping by here, but more importantly for praying now for the birth parents. Bless you!

      March 8th, 2015 0:12
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  • Gina Duke

    Such a wonderful post on fostering and grace to others. May this be me, Lord! I’ going to schedule it for a tweet later today.

    March 7th, 2015 18:52
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  • Lisha Epperson

    I’ve had experiences like this with the biological mothers of my children. Each has come to me privately with a hearty thank you. I think women know that space of “I need help”. I know I do. More often than not we’d appreciate that cup of coffee and someone to sit with us, as you say in the middle of our mess. And when they do we appreciate it. You’ve done great work Jolene. Blessings and so happy to sit with you at #GraceTable.

    March 9th, 2015 1:19
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    • Jolene Underwood
      http://www.joleneunderwood.com/

      Thank you so much Lisha. What beauty you have been able to experience through all of this. I look forward to hearing more of your story soon, friend. Love sitting at any table with you. 🙂

      March 9th, 2015 17:53
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  • Katie

    Thank you for sharing here Jolene.

    March 13th, 2015 13:05
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