Foster Care (and the meaning of Sacrifice)

Doing foster care is a lot like being a firefighter. You’re called to run into a building that’s smoldering, burning, or blazing with fire and help people who are stuck inside. You know this is a risk, which is why you put on your safety gear (aka, read the books, take the classes, and ask for prayer), but nothing really prepares you until you’re in that burning building.

I’ve thought a LOT about this in the past few weeks as we cared for another foster kiddo, and I’ve come to the conclusion that running into fires isn’t fun.

I suppose we all know this — hence why we have “firefighter calendars” to celebrate their supreme muscles service. But foster parents don’t get calendars (how weird would that be?!); yet their sacrifice is just as celebratory. (P.S. This would be my calendar pic👇😳😂)

To be fair, I neither call myself a foster parent (even though I have been one), nor do I call myself a firefighter (even though I frequently put out popcorn-pan fires). Either way, we’re all in a season of SACRIFICE, aren’t we?

Covid-19 has kept us all away from the people we love most, and this is nothing to sneeze at (sorry, bad joke). But sacrifice always leaves a mark – just like a burning ember would – so why do it?

Well, whenever I’m confused with something I usually research it, so I turned to Merriam Webster (cause 👉 #wordnerd):

SACRIFICE (n.) : destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else; something given up or lost. 

Wow, ok. Destruction? It’s no wonder we try to control our sacrifices: “destruction” just doesn’t sound that enticing!! But when you’re dealing with humans – be it foster kids, your own kids, people in your church, or your patients – playing it safe is rarely a plausible outcome.

So again, why do it? Why run into a burning building and risk your sanity, time, comfort or resources when you don’t have to? Well, Merriam Webster also says this: the synonyms for “sacrifice” are to GIVE and be FREE. The antonyms are to be UNHOLY and UNFREE.

Friends, you don’t have to be hyper-spiritual to see the etymological implications here: if you sacrifice…you become FREE!

Free from one’s desires. Free from allowing the world or other people to control your decisions. Free to GIVE and dedicate one’s life to helping others. There are many human examples of this, but the one I look to the most is Jesus. 

Jesus always sacrificed his health and reputation for the sake of others because he always responded in the opposite vain of how people thought he should. (Which is why I love him: Jesus was a rule breaker too!)

He once helped a woman who was about to get stoned to death for committing adultery (John 8:1-11); he healed people with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45talk about isolation!); he worked on the Sabbath, hung out with tax collectors (the nerve!), and all of his besties were a bunch of rough-and-tough fishermen.

The religious leaders of his day didn’t approve of these decisions, but Jesus didn’t care.

Sacrifice isn’t about watching from the sidelines and maintaining the status quo. It’s about running into people’s buildings and giving them relief! Jesus understood this, and he became their balm.

Religion aside, isn’t that kind of sacrifice appealing? I mean, what would the next generation be like if we, as parents, led by example and taught our kids how to stick their necks out for someone else who is sick, hurt, or hard to love?

Ultimately this is why I said yes to fostering again.

But I told myself this time would be different. “I won’t get hurt because it’s only a week of respite care.” Then Covid-19 happened and the county said our little buddy couldn’t go back to his foster parents because they needed to self-quarantine for two weeks. (They had just returned Mexico.)

No comprendo Ingles. Didn’t the county know that a 12-month old baby would make it very VERY hard to homeschool my three kids while being forced to stay inside?!?!? And besides, this wasn’t what I had signed up for!!!

But then my husband spoke some TRUTH.

“Jonna…at least we have the chance to do something good during a time that is so very bad.” And of course he was right.

So we stepped into the discomfort … that-is-four-children-during-a-pandemic! … and we not only survived, we came out the better for it!

Our girls learned the art of “patience” (and how to change poopy diapers), and my husband and I grew closer to one of the COOLEST families on the planet. And while most days weren’t easy, when our little guy left, my heart still hurt and I still cried bittersweet tears, just like I did a year ago when our foster son left usbecause sacrifice hurts!

It goes beyond chili cook-offs, calendar sales, support groups, or facebook pics. It takes hard work and even harder choices because “destruction” is rarely popular. And yet…

Change doesn’t roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. (MLK, Jr.)

So I encourage you today to press into your current discomfort and look beyond the overwhelm (in your finances, job, parenting, faith, etc.) so you can see the greater picture. Uncomfortable sacrifice ALWAYS feels overwhelming at first, but “this too shall pass”. Sacrifice is rarely about us anyway. It’s about someone else. And the next generation needs to learn how to make these sacrifices so the catalyst toward change (and freedom) can be sparked. 🔥

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