A family transformed by obeying God’s call.
by Kathleen Dunlap
“He needs a more contained environment.”
“He can’t act safely.”
“He has a checkered history. We aren’t sure you are ready to house him.”
These words were repeated to my husband, Thomas, and me many times as we experienced the process of foster care and adoption. A twelve-year-old boy, a ward of the state of Colorado, needed a home. He suffered from severe trauma and attachment disorder, due to neglect, abuse, and multiple placements.
When children are placed in a home through the foster care system in the United States, multiple services accompany them: a case worker, guardian ad litem, therapist, and court-appointed special advocate. When my son first joined our family, more adults were present in his young life than age-appropriate peers or friends.
The state’s caseworkers infused us with information on his history. This list reminded me of a rap sheet for a convicted criminal, not the details of a child who needed a family. We pushed back on the state’s concerns about placing him in our home, as we were newly certified foster parents.
Therapies and visits
During the process of transitioning our son to us, the caseworker put two forms of therapy in place to “address his lack of empathy.”
In addition to these therapies, he had visits with his biological siblings, supervised by a licensed therapist. He also attended an out-of-district, separate school for kids with severe trauma.
Need for love
While these services were well-intended by adults working toward my son’s greater good, it all seemed as though we were missing the point.
This child needed love.
Not the sentimental, mushy-feeling love but the chasing down, relentless, risky, courageous love. The kind of love that says, “You can curse at me. You can say I’m not your mom. You can slam doors and lock them. You can yell. You can raise your fists. But I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.” The kind of love that God shows to humanity.
Thomas and I knew that we were called by God to love this one child. We knew this love would have to be fueled by the Spirit because alone, we would be depleted. If we did not allow the Spirit to do His work through us, we would end up as another set of people who had already let our son down.
The list of people in my son’s short life who had given up on him after his outburst of rage, physical aggression, and verbal assaults was long and heartbreaking. But Thomas and I, empowered by the divine love of God the Father, determined to show him a different way to live.
Living out love
The display of this love was practical. We showed up when the school called to suspend our child. We said “no” to self-harm behaviors and placed ourselves as physical barriers between him and his harmful actions. We affirmed his value and worth as a human being created in the image of God.
Our love never wore out because its source was divine.
Slowly, our son grew and changed. The outbursts faded. The anger dimmed. His fists unclenched. He smiled more. He referred to us a mom and dad. He asked to change his last name to ours.
We see repeatedly in Scripture how Jesus never shied away from His calling. He was sent by God the Father to love the world, to die for sinners, and to rise again for eternal life. He was single-minded in His goal, yet He continually displayed compassion for those around Him.
For the servant in the garden whose ear was cut off, Jesus healed him. For Simon Peter who denied Him three times and ran away from his calling back to fisherman, Jesus came to him at the seashore and restored him. For Saul of Tarsus who relentlessly pursued Jesus’ followers to kill them, Jesus interrupted his journey with light and acceptance.
Working with God
The calling of God on my family’s life to love was undeniable. Through this journey, Jesus showed us that He gives abundant life and lasting change, even during the hardest of circumstances.
We pray for faith. We pray for God to show Himself in our lives. We hope for blessings and joy and peace. Yet often, we do not take the first step of obedience. To be on earth is to work with God. To co-create with Him. To fuel our faith by our actions. What if we yielded to His undying love and let Him work through us? What if we dropped our own plans and let Him create new ones, fashioned by Him?
Maybe more kids would have safe homes. Maybe more families would stay together. Maybe our churches would flood with people who need to experience this love. Maybe we would see heaven’s practices in real time on earth now until God’s kingdom comes in the future.
On adoption day, our son sat in the courtroom and clearly spoke to the judge about his desire to be a part of our family. He stated everything that he loved about his new dad, mom, and little brother. He wanted us. We wanted him. Our family was then forever changed, and our son is now forever ours.
Relentless, reckless, overflowing love had sealed us to each other. Its transforming power alone made all the difference.
Resources on Foster Care and Adoption
Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson
Foster the Family blog and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fosterthefamilyblog
About the Author
Kathleen Dunlap has been published in The Quiet Hour, God’s Word for Today, The Lutheran Digest, Creation Illustrated, and Presbycan. She lives in Arvada, CO. Visit her website: kathleendunlap.com. And visit her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kathleen.e.dunlap/.