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May 18, 2018

Interview with Jason Johnson, Foster Parent, Foster Care Advocate, and Author 

After you’ve been fostering for a while, it’s common for foster parents to feel tired and discouraged, wondering if their hard work and sacrifice is worth it. 

“I’m one person in a black hole of need. Is making a difference for just one child enough?” 

I don’t like to hear foster parents use words like “just” and “only.”

  • “They’ve fostered 53 kids; we’ve only fostered two.” No, you haven’t “only” fostered two.
  • “We’ve just adopted one child.” No, not “just” one.

“Just” and “only” are minimizing words that suggest you haven’t done as much as you think you should, or as much as others. Even if you feel you “only” changed the life of one child, even that’s not true! The investment you make in one person’s life is meaningful, not only to that person but to the web of relationships throughout that person’s life. Caring for children has deeply embedded, generational effects that are more widespread than we could imagine. 

This is hard to see when you’re in the trenches and you can only see what’s in front of you. We have to poke our heads up now and then to see the larger battle field.

In foster care, there’s a whole network of people beyond the child in your home that may be impacted by seeing the Gospel on display: caseworkers, judges, lawyers, CASA workers, parents, your church family, your community, your friends, your family, and even strangers in the grocery store who ask about your family.

And then there’s YOU. In my own foster care journey, I was the person who needed to see the Gospel in this.

We ask, “Do I have what it takes to keep going?” That answer, every time, will almost certainly be no. We set standards for ourselves that God doesn’t even hold us to. This reality allows me to read Scripture in a whole new light. I understand Paul in a tangible way when he boasts in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The world says, “Hide your weakness. It’s shameful and embarrassing.” Scripture says, “Nope, that’s when God’s power is most evident.”

And all of us in the trenches say, “That is good news!”

When things get tough, you have to constantly remind yourself of what is true. Scripture says our work in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), which is why I’m able to sleep at night. We don’t always see results of our work in this lifetime; often the significance is for eternity. This truth will keep you steady when everything around you feels chaotic.  

“But I’m tired—physically tired and soul tired. I miss the comforts and predictability of my previous life. How do I keep going?”

I understand, and I’ve been there. My wife and I are in a life stage where our friends’ kids are mostly self-sufficient. Older ones can babysit younger ones so Mom and Dad can go out. Our situation is just different, and we can’t do that. Of course we have moments of envy and say, “Boy, that would sure be nice.” Those moments feel like weakness.

At the end of our rope, we ask, “Why are we doing this?” And the Accuser is right there to pile on: “Yeah, why are you doing this? Your lives could be so much simpler. You’re purposefully making things more difficult.”

During a long, hard season, I came across a screen shot from the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” The scene is set in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before the crucifixion, and Jesus is praying with such intensity that the Bible says, “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). In the background of the image, you can see a figure lingering in the brush. The inference is that Satan was there, in that struggle, trying to convince Jesus to bail as He asks God if there might be some other way (Luke 22:42).

That scene reminds me of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when He was sent to the wilderness to fast for 40 days. Satan is there with his three temptations, but Jesus withstands each one. Luke 4 says Satan “left Him until an opportune time” (verse 13). I’m convinced the garden was that opportune time. In what appears to be a moment of weakness, Satan says, “Look, the road to redemption doesn’t have to be paved with your suffering.” But Jesus says, “That’s not how this works. I will drink from this cup.”

If we look only at that garden scene, we say, “Wow, He was struggling.” But we know from the bigger story that it’s not weakness that led Jesus to that moment, but faithfulness. That scene, though anguished, was one of His greatest moments of strength!

Our hearts break for these kids and their hard stories, and faithfulness sometimes leads to a place of exhaustion. We reach our garden moment and think, “If there’s any other way this can play out…” Paul cautioned against becoming “weary in well doing” (Galatians 6:9). Times will come when you need to step back, take a break, and pour into your own soul. If we become unstable, we cannot provide stability for kids who need it.

We will encounter seasons that feel like the garden, but can we see those moments in a different light? I don’t think God was angry, disappointed, or surprised by Jesus’ prayer. I think God was pleased with His son and overwhelmed with joy at His faithfulness.

“I don’t know where to go from here. How do I broaden my support network?”

Most foster parents wish they had more support, but I know it can be hard to find if you don’t have family close by or if you’re in a church community that doesn’t understand your commitment to foster care. I’m confident more people than we think are willing to help; they likely don’t know how.

Foster parents aren’t good at asking for help, but don’t be afraid to reach out and help others see how they can be involved. I know it feels self-serving to say, “Here’s how you can help me.” We think, “We got ourselves into this. We should be able to handle this on our own.”

But we miss a blessing when we’re not willing to show others how to help. We deprive others of the opportunity to be part of what God is doing. We all do different things in the body of Christ while working toward the same purpose (1 Corinthians 12). We don’t say, “Look how strong the ear is for doing the eye’s job!” The ear needs to let the eye be the eye.

It’s a fallacy to think I need to have everything under control. That’s not how the body works; it was designed to work where we know our limitations, and we all depend on each other. There’s freedom to go to others and say, “I need help.” I’m confident people will say, “How can I help? I’d love to.”

Other ideas:

  • Connect with Bethany to learn about resources, events, and webinars. Research online support groups to meet other foster parents.
  • Explore online parenting resources though Empowered to Connect for education and inspiration.
  • Consider joining a local, in-person foster care support group. One caution: find a healthy group that does more than commiserate about the challenges. There’s a place for that, but find a community that takes action to help each other out of that loop.
  • If nothing like this exists in your community, maybe you can be the catalyst to start something new. Send an email to foster families you know and see what happens!

When we find ourselves asking, “Why are we doing this?” we can remind ourselves of three things: the kids are worth it, we are called to it, and Christ will walk us through it.

Jason Johnson
 is a husband to Emily, a dad, a writer and speaker. His family opened their home to foster care in 2012. After years of pastoral ministry and church planting experience, he now serves as the director of church ministry initiatives with Christian Alliance for Orphans.

He is the author of several books including ALL IN Orphan Care and The Beauty and Brokenness of Foster Care as well as these new releases: ReFraming Foster Care and Everyone Can Do Something

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