My wife and I appreciate the many praises we receive for being foster parents. People call us guardian angels of the two children we fostered. People say we’re amazing for doing what we do. They say they don’t know how we do it and we must have special hearts. They say we made an incredible difference in the souls of these children. The praises mean a lot to us especially during the trying times of this experience. But other foster parents amaze us and you would be too if you hear what we hear.
We hear from foster parents who have fostered 8, 25 or 44 children, and they adopted from 1 to 8 of them. We read about the horror stories, the tragedies and the heartbreaks that other foster parents go through, whether it’s returning a child to the biological parent after raising the child for 3 years or dealing with the anger issues and reattachment disorders of older children. We read about the wisdom and intuition foster parents exercised that made a difference in a child’s life or development. We read the heartbreaking outcome of some cases and there’s nothing a foster parent can do about it, but they accept it and go on to love the next child. We read about hateful criticisms foster parents of multiple children receive from ignorant strangers, who prejudge in error the situation of the foster family, and the humility the foster parents show in response. We are amazed by the perseverance of foster parents who fight for the well-being of their foster child while facing ongoing ordeals with the system. We are astonished – puzzled even – by the inhumanly enduring love of foster parents who don’t give up on their foster child even when the case stretches for years. Where my wife and I have whined and moaned over some of our experiences, we are silenced by the trials and display of character by other foster parents. Their stories grant me a healthy perspective of my own.
So, to my fellow foster parents out there who have strived, struggled, endured, triumphed, been broken, cried, and loved, you inspire me as a foster father. You remind me of the incredible good that can be found in this world, which the Bible claims as evidences of God’s grace in a broken world. You are evidences of God’s grace. As a foster parent, I share a glimpse of what you experience – the joys and the pains – but I know that there is a realm of challenges you have weathered that I cannot fathom. Thank you for sharing your stories of redemption, for being heroes to the helpless, and for giving a measure of goodness out of your extraordinary spirits to make our world a better place. What I find amidst all the praises my wife and I receive is that we are humbly in the company of amazing foster parents. You are silent heroes of society who don’t get the spotlight, cheering crowds, or wealth for doing what you do. Most will never see all of your tears or know all the details of your fostering struggles. Yet day-by-day you’re saving someone. And at the end of the day, I know you wouldn’t even think of yourselves as heroes. Well, to that child you’re parenting, you are his/her hero. I salute you and I thank God that there are people like you in this world.
How we see ourselves in light of another is fascinating. Given what I know about where my foster son has come from, I look forward to what he can become. But when I look at my foster son’s face, I realize the things in myself that I wouldn’t want him to model after. When I picture my foster son doing life with me, watching me, following me, and learning from me, everything I do feels weightier. By “do,” I include actions, choices, pursuits, attitudes, expressions, etc. The things that I wouldn’t want to be true in my foster son’s character or life shouldn’t be true in mine. It’s rare that sin doesn’t hurt anyone else but yourself. Hurting yourself should be reason enough to deal with your sin. But when sins affect others intimately involved in your life, there is all the more reason to decisively deal with those sins before God’s throne of grace. I can’t be a perfect man, but I can be a man committed to redemption and transformation.
The kind of man Peanut would become would be a beautiful story of redemption. As I picture the man my foster son would become, I’m compelled to picture the man I must be.
The parents of Lil Guy wrote something to my wife and I that we never expected to read, but was the best thing they could ever tell us. We’re about to visit Lil Guy this weekend for the second time, since we returned him to his parents over a month and half ago. This visit will be for his infant baptism. You never really know what to expect when you have to give people back their child after you raised the child as your own. My wife and I had heard the terrible stories of envy, jealousy and sense of competition from the parents toward foster parents. We were warned by our social worker that typically the parents will want to put as much distance as possible between them and the foster parents because they don’t want to be reminded of the awful experience of not being with their child. The parents generally would want to focus on being their own family and forget all that fostering mess. That’s what we were told. Even though the mother had told us that she wanted us to remain in Lil Guy’s life, we were warned that initially the parents may welcome us to visit but we shouldn’t be surprised if they started tapering away from us so they could pursue their own lives. Parents often viewed foster parents as intruders or the ones who took their baby away.
It made sense to us. We wanted to respect whatever space they desired. So when we try to visit, we respectfully asked for their permission. This time, we wanted to bring a few gifts for Lil Guy – a toy that I found at Costco, which I knew he would like, and a few books that my wife picked out for his mother to be able to read to him. But we didn’t know how the parents might feel about us bringing gifts. Would it make them feel bad if they’re not buying these things for him? Would it cause envy? Would it make things awkward? So I emailed the dad and asked him if he and the mother would be comfortable with us giving Lil Guy a few gifts when we come see him at his baptism. Here’s what he emailed back to us: “Im ok with any help from you B. Remember you and your wife are and will always be his parents as well.”
My wife cried. I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure this isn’t usual. Honestly, I felt undeserving. He didn’t have to grant us that honor. They could move on without us. You know, they really hardly know us. They don’t know where we’re from, where we live, what we do for a living, or what our actual ethnicity is (other some sort of Asian). All they know about us is we parented their child for 8 months and a day. Through that process, I think I was quite selfish about Lil Guy. But they welcome us. I felt undeserving. Though we didn’t get to keep Lil Guy in our home, the beauty of how this is turning out is beyond my imagination.
A week ago, I felt a burden in my heart for my wife and I to write a card to the mother to encourage her because we knew she was encountering some hard moments. I thought maybe our words could offer her some strength. I think we’ll show up to our second visit this weekend with a toy and some books for Lil Guy and a lot of encouragement for the mother and father.
(in case you ask, all the things we got for Lil Guy, we also got for Peanut, our second foster son, who is growing, smiling, and started to talk up a storm. More on him later.)
Today, we visited our first foster son (Lil Guy) who we returned back to his biological mother. It seems being able to visit your former foster child is not typical (for many reasons, I’m sure). We developed a good relationship with his parents and they invited us to stay in touch with them and visit. So we finally did today. It’s hard to believe it has only been three weeks since he left us because it feels like months. Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect – what it would be like or how we would feel.
When we first walked into the room, a family member was holding Lil Guy. We approached him and he just looked at us observantly for a couple of seconds but he made no sound, expression or movement. I asked him, “Do you remember us?” Then a very big smile beamed across his face. He reached out with both of his chubby arms and leaned towards me for me to hold him, while his mother said in the background, “Of course he does.” Next he saw a familiar stuffed animal he used to play with in his room. He smiled at it, grabbed for it and played with it like he used to. We played with him on the floor for a while. He kept crawling towards us, reached for us and climbed on us. I played a silly game with him that used to always make him laugh very hard; it still made him laugh. He saw our second foster son as well who was his little brother for about three weeks when we had both of them. He immediately reached for our second foster son, plucked the pacifier out of his mouth and tried to stick it in his own mouth. He repeated that four times! It cracked us up. It was so wonderful to see him again. He grew a lot in the last three weeks, and he has a head full of hair now. He is doing well and the mother is taking good care of him. She is making the best out of what she has and seems to be doing it wholeheartedly. His living place is a communal environment with lots of people around. It was clean and well managed. We’ve heard that cases like Lil Guy’s don’t often end up as success cases. We’re glad to see God’s blessing upon him and his mother to make him the exception. My wife and I were encouraged to see how well he was doing and told him once again that we love him and are proud of him.
Of course, leaving him was difficult again. After giving a round of hugs, the mother invited us to come back, even to visit regularly. As we were saying bye to Lil Guy, he had that look on his face again like he didn’t like what was happening. We don’t know if we will or how much we will continue to visit him. We’re just not sure yet. All of this is new territory for us, so I think we’re taking it a step at a time for right now. We want to do what’s best for the child and we want to be sensitive our own spirits. But the hour we spent with him seemed to lift his spirit, was affirming to the mother and brought a lot of joy to us. Plus, he was very happy to have his old toy again!
Many of you know from my last post that we had to return our foster son, Lil Guy, back to his biological parents yesterday (Monday) and many of you responded to my wife and me with compassion as you sensed the weight upon on our hearts over losing him. Thank you. It really felt like losing a son. Both of our eyes were puffy yesterday from the continuous sobbing. Last night, I had the inclination to make today a mournful day – relax, chill and allow myself to be somber. Until, I remembered that it would be our second foster son’s 1 month birthday the next day! As many of you know from a previous post (Foster Dad 11), we were asked two and half weeks ago to accept another foster baby, whom we call “Peanut.” When I realized it would be Peanut’s 1 month birthday, I decided that being sad would have to wait. The next day was a day to celebrate!
We still had a real reason to be sad, but we also had a real reason to rejoice. The sadness is still there over losing Lil Guy from our care, but the rejoicing for Peanut’s growth and life should also be there. While the sadness is real, I don’t have to be in that space. I can choose to be in the space of rejoicing, which is just as much a reality as the sadness. To allow the reason for sadness to compromise the reason for rejoicing would be a tragedy and a mistake. I don’t know if this sounds a bit schizo. But I think life doesn’t always serve us one meal at a time; rather, it sometimes throws the whole buffet menu at you where the moments of sorrow and of joy bump into each other. When they do, we have the freedom to choose where we want our souls to be in those moments. I reflect on the wisdom from Ecclesiastes that reads: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:1,4). It’s important to recognize which season we are in. We often don’t get to choose what season occurs anymore than we can choose the weather. But we can choose how to dress for the weather that we’re in – we can choose to respond to the season given to us in those moments.
I’ll have time to still be sad. But today was Peanut’s one month birthday and we had to celebrate his life. To allow our loss of Lil Guy impede on Peanut’s life would be wrong to Peanut, and it would be wrong to us for when real reasons to rejoice are offered to us we should embrace it and dwell in it. Throughout today, my wife Ellen repeated three times, “Peanut needs us.” I think Peanut was counting on us to celebrate him! And I’m so glad we did. There’s a time for everything: a time to mourn and a time to dance – a time to mourn the leaving of a beautiful little boy whom we loved as our own with all of our hearts, and a time to dance over a beautiful one-month-old boy in our arms whom we love with all of our hearts. Knowing when to cry and when to laugh is important for the sake of our own souls and for the sake of those we love.
Dear Lil Guy (as we have affectionately called you in our home), how do we say good-bye to you? In these last 8 months and 1 day, you were a part of our lives as we were a part of yours. You were part of our family. You came to us as a 4 lb 9 oz baby with all kinds of labels placed on you and you leave us as a 20 lb baby with so much happiness. When you came to us, you entered a home not only of love but of prayer. Every night I, your foster dad, placed my hand upon you and prayed for God’s grace, wisdom, love, and protection to cover you. We believed you were a miracle from God.
People have told us that you were lucky to have been received into our home and cared for by us. But I’ve come to think that we were the lucky ones. You were such a blessing to our lives. You brought joy and warmth into our home. You reminded me of the simple and significant value of laughter. You taught me new perspectives on grace and redemption as we watched you heal. Everyday we watched you grow. As you grew in every way, we knew you were triumphing over the odds you faced. You reminded me of the meaning of perseverance. You represented hope to us. You had so much joy in you. You touched other people around you with your infectious smiles and laughs. We will miss you dearly. We were the lucky ones because of you.
Though your time with us was short, we are privileged to be part of your story at the beginning of your life and we are humbled that you were a part of ours. You do not leave us without many tears coming from us. We will never forget you. Though you may not have memories of us, we hope the love, prayers and hope we poured into you will leave a permanent mark upon your soul. We are glad to have been given this opportunity to love you. As you leave us, I hope you know that we are so proud of you. You have already done so well in life. You keep doing what you’re doing.
As you continue your journey in life, know that there’s no trial too big for you to handle if God is at your side. Keep him close. He loves you more than you can possibly imagine and he desires to be near you. Seek wisdom, understand faith, discover the meaning of grace and above all know the reality of love – both in receiving love and in giving it. And remember that true love often has to come and be given with sacrifice. Wherever you are, you will remain in our prayers.
We love you from the bottom of our hearts. We’ll miss you. We are so very proud of you.
Your foster Mom and Dad,
Brian and Ellen Chan
(This letter was included in the end of Lil Guy’s two volume “Lifebook,” an album of photos and words of encouragement that Ellen and I put together, which gets sent with him. The court ruled today on reunification. My wife and I have been balling our eyes out today. It’s incredible how significant and meaningful 8 months and 1 day can be – not only to the child but also to us).
When my wife and I first started foster parenting our first foster baby, our focus was on raising and nurturing this baby in need. We divulged our time, energy, attention and affection into the child. We educated ourselves about what the child needed. We paid close attention to his special needs. We worked hard at getting the services he needed to aide his growth and development. We took him to every appointment. We ran to him when he cried. We laughed when he laughed. It was about being parents to a baby in need of loving parents. What we were doing and why we were doing it was clear to us. As parents, loving the child was our purpose. But what happens when the purpose changes – when we’re no longer called to be his parents? That’s the hard part.
Somewhere in our journey as foster parents, the game changed for us so-to-speak, as reunification became more tangible. At once we thought our calling was purely to the child, which it was at first. But a new purpose became apparent which was not only to the child but to his family. Our calling went from giving grace to the child to being agents of grace to building the child’s family, even if that family would not be us. To love a child not our own as our own meant loving him back into his family. Even though reunification was in the back of our minds, in the thick of parenting our practical focus was purely on the child. Then suddenly a new purpose dawns gradually over the horizon of foster parenting, requiring us to re-shift our focus to aiding the making of a family.
Is this the case in life? You set out on a journey with one clear purpose in mind and you pour everything you have into it but somewhere along the way a new purpose as noble as the first emerges, beckoning your equal embrace. The hardest part I think is being in that in-between space where you are shifting purposes wholeheartedly. And you know you have to because if you stay stubbornly committed to the first purpose solely would undermine the new purpose.
I find that an art in living is having the honesty to recognize when the purpose in a journey has changed and having the sacrificial courage to embrace the new, apparent purpose without thinking that you’ve betrayed the first. Times change, as they say. Purposes can too. The purposeful change is mental. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s practical. It’s relational. It’s an awakening, and sometimes a rude one, that makes you wonder, “What happened? What am I here for?” While the second purpose is as noble and worthy as the first, the change is nonetheless difficult, sometimes excruciatingly so. It’s difficult because you were so committed to the first purpose. It’s difficult because while you don’t regret pouring into the first purpose and continue to believe in its worthiness, it still feels like you’re abandoning something dear to you – even a part of you. It’s difficult because while you cognitively knew reunification was the goal and a possibility you still devotedly received this child as your very own and shifting in that devotion feels like a surrendering an essential part of you. It’s difficult because the changing of purposes sometimes hurts. But perhaps the change from one purpose to another is part of the art of living a good life marked by wisdom and grace, and you know somewhere in the recesses of your conscience that to not make that change would result in the detrimental betrayal of both purposes.