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May Is National Foster Care Month

I had no idea, until Suzanne (who blogs at TheGloriousMundane) mentioned it, that May is National Foster Care Month.  I also knew very little about foster care until Suzanne and Theo got involved.  Now I feel involved, too, and wanted to write something to encourage them.  Maybe this will be an encouragement to others involved in foster care as well.

I was recently listening to a Christian radio station on one of our numerous long road trips.  I can't even tell you what station it was or who was talking.  But the announcer said she was so proud of her sister because her adult kids had taken in foster children and her sister treated those kids like they were her very own grandchildren.  Then her co-announcer remarked on how things our grown children do still involve us.  I kind of looked around to see if they were talking about us!

On the other side, Suzanne says the reason they have foster children is partly our fault.  In a recent guest blog at TheArchibaldProject, entitled Outside of Our Comfort Zones, Suzanne wrote, 
As I wade knee-deep through the world of foster care, I can only blame our parents who raised us to not isolate ourselves within our own comfort zones, but to step out and break down those walls. If there is a need out there, we have a responsibility to help with that need.
So, sink or swim, here we go, we're all involved!

We never met our first foster grandchild who came and went from Suz and Theo's home, all while we were in Niger.  But we've spent almost a year now getting to know their second foster child who we call "Heavenly" on social media.  We have grown to love her and do consider her one of our grandkids, at least for now.  We've helped comb her hair when it was a tangled mess, seen her watch out for the little ones and then in the next moment involved in sibling rivalry, heard her make some keen insightful statements, and seen her frustrate everybody around her.  We love her little quirks and her outgoing personality.  Heavenly even bought me this beautiful bracelet with her own money.  And I'm pretty sure she used my toothbrush.  That's a little too much bonding, y'all!

We've seen up close and personal some of the struggles Suzanne and Theo have faced, not only with the child herself, but also with the system.  I think Suz and Theo are doing a remarkable job.  Most of us have grown along with our kids, so that by the time we are parenting a pre-teen, we have a fair bit of experience under our belts.  We know what makes our kids tick, what motivates them, what will push their buttons.  We've also instilled in them values that are important to us and to our faith.  If we think hard work is important, we've taught them that we want them to work hard.  If we think creativity is important, we've allowed them free range to be creative.  If we think that kindness is important, we've spent a lot of time helping them recognize when they're being mean.  So, it's no easy job for parents of pre-schoolers to open their home and heart to a pre-adolescent who they don't know or understand and who grew up with a different set of values.  Just let me say again, Suzanne and Theo are amazing!

As a result of John's doctorate studies, he's learned and taught me a new word:  liminal or liminality.  Liminality is described in Wikipedia
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold" is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rites, when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the rite establishes.
...More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rites. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly.
In other words, it's an in-between state, living between worlds, it's a state of continuity and discontinuity at the same time.  We were just discussing this with my mother-in-law and she said, "I don't like liminality.  I like things to be either here or there, to be clear."  She nailed it! That, my friends, is how foster care feels.

The child belongs to one family, but is living with another.  Neither the child nor the parents nor the foster parents know what is next.  The child's situation is here one day and overnight they are somewhere else.  Continuity of tradition is gone....the new family celebrates Christmas and birthdays differently; they discipline differently; their church is nothing like what the child is used to; people who they've never met are being called "Aunt", "Uncle", "Grandma", and "Grandpa".  The foster parents' home changes to accommodate the new child, as well, so they also feel the liminality of the situation.  The outcome of the placement is unsure.  The goal is for the child to be reunited with their family, but how or when that will happen is unknown.  Eventually the foster parents and foster child become more used to each other and they begin to learn and grow together.  But always there is this sense of the unknown, the constantly changing, the neither here nor there.

I think another way foster care is a liminal situation is that it really brings to light the ugliness of our broken world.  There are parents who don't want to care for their children; parents who refuse to care for their children; parents who want to do their best, but don't have the means to care for their children.  Sometimes it feels like the foster parents are doing all the work while the birth parents keep living in their selfish world.  This shows us the liminal state of the world we live in, while we wait for wrong to be put right and for evil to be conquered.  We live in a broken world that will someday be made whole.  And this liminal world we live in is not always a nice or comfortable place to be.  We just want things to be fixed and to be fixed now.

We aren't the first to feel this way.  David certainly expressed this over and over in the Psalms.  David writes in Psalm 58 and 59 about how some day the wicked will be avenged.  Justice will be served.  Righteousness will reign.  The world will be fixed.  In the meantime, says David, 
I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.  O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.
If you are a foster parent reading this, I just want to encourage you to keep doing what is right even when the system seems broken.  Keep loving on that child even when they are hard to love.  Keep pouring into their brokenness even when it seems you are making no progress.  Keep praying for the child as only God can change the deep down inside.  Keep singing over the privilege that God has given you to share His love.  Keep running to Him for security and stability and safety.  He is your refuge and your rock.  Doing right isn't always easy, but as long as you are sure God wants you to continue in this calling, he will equip you for it, one day at a time, one step at a time.  It may even feel like it's one minute at a time, but He will do it.  Hang in there!  God will make it all right and you will make a difference even if you don't see it.