We got our first placement on March 31, 2009. When they called, they didn’t even know his name. All we knew was that he was a one year old. No idea how one he was, I bought bottles and baby food only to later return them for sippy cups and goldfish when I found out he was 18 months old. It was 2 weeks before we learned that he was from a Spanish speaking only home. He hadn’t understood anything we’d said in all that time. It was amazing watching a friend speak to little Paf in Spanish and watching his sweet face light up. His ears finally felt at home. We learned quickly that foster care was a lot about starting mid-stride, figuring out sleep patterns and food patterns as you tried to help a tiny one feel comfortable during intense trauma and change, all the while keeping up with the regularity of life.
Soon after R came to live with us, we learned that DHS was planning to place him with his out of state grandparents. Unfortunately, since they lived outside of Arkansas, the process to get him moved to their home was long and arduous. I was able to meet his grandparents when they came to town to visit Paf, and, after meeting them, I knew that he belonged with them. I decided that I would fight alongside them to get through the mounds of papers and red tape that would allow P to be with them. I called case workers, emailed lawyers, and did my best to be a squeaky wheel to get Paf home to his family.
And, as I fought for him to be moved from my home, I fell in love with a boy that was not mine. I never doubted he would leave, never dreamed that he would be mine. I wanted him to be with his family, and, yet, this boy moved into the inner reaches of my heart, a permanent resident therein. Christie Erwin in her book The Middle Mom writes that a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice unless it cost you something. In foster care, yes, you give your home and your time and your resources, but the biggest sacrifice that God calls foster parents to give is their heart. I worked hard to achieve a goal that I knew would break my heart.
He called me mama, and for 6 months, I was his mama. I was the one who came to him when he cried out at night. I was the one who kissed his booboos. I was the one who held him when he was scared, and the one who watched him grow and change from baby to toddler. I loved him. Even though he wasn’t mine, for 6 months, I was the only mama he knew.
And then the day that I had been both praying for and dreading for six months finally came. One week after he turned 2, I got the call that the judge had agreed to our appeals. P was going home. His grandfather, a pilot, was going to meet us at the airport to fly him home. I vividly remember the chit chat in the airport terminal. I remember walking him to the plane, and buckling him into his carseat as though it happened yesterday. I remember prying his hands from my arms, the vice grip with which he held me willing me to stay, and the fear in his eyes as he realized that his world was changing once again. My eyes still well with tears as I remember turning from him and walking away as he screamed for me, the tears finally unleashed from my eyes. I remember the hole in my heart and the fear that I would never feel whole again, and I remember the joy of hearing that he was happy and doing well and seeing pictures of him growing strong and beautiful through the last seven years. Those were hard days, but they were days when I learned how to love sacrificially, without wanting anything in return. They were days that I learned how to entrust a child I loved into the hands of my Father who loved Paf more than I could ever imagine.
In 3 days I will take part in the 4th annual Walk for the Waiting, and I cannot help remembering this little one 7 years later. Paf came to me scared and vulnerable, and I had a choice. I could house him and care for him and protect my heart, or I could pour out my heart and my soul on his behalf. Today there are approximately 4,850 children in foster care in Arkansas, and I wonder what it would be like if all of those children were loved with that same sacrificial love. What would happen if the 6,000 churches in Arkansas actually had pure and faultless religion? What would it be like if we cared for the foster child in his distress? My guess is that our state would change. How many more families would be restored? How many more children would have hope? What would the ripples be like for the generations to come? How many more kids would graduate from high school and college? How many less young adults would we see incarcerated or homeless or repeating the cycle of foster care?
Arkansas is at a crisis point. We NEED more foster and adoptive homes. We have children sleeping in shelters and group homes and DHS offices after experiencing the greatest trauma of their lives, and, if we continue to respond in the same way, we will have hopeless children that turn into hopeless adults. BUT, what if WE changed? What if instead of ignoring the problem, we all took part by fostering, adopting, mentoring, volunteering or giving? That is why I walk. I walk for the first little boy that came to me through foster care. I walk because, for 6 months, he called me momma. I walk because he is healthy and growing and happy today. I walk for the ones who don’t have that story, because I know that they can. Will you walk with me? Will you donate for these worthy little ones across our state? Will you consider other ways you can help?