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(Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

It's 10:00 P.M. and a whimper echoes through the hallway. At first, there is hope she will self-soothe, but it dwindles when sniffles follow it. Netflix goes on pause, and my wife looks at me,

"Calm Ashley down," she says under her breath.

This might sound a little heartless, but few people understand the trials of fostering. As I peek into the door 5-year-old, Ashley is clutching the unicorn blanket she received from her mother on her last scheduled visit.

"I...miss...my, mommy," she says crying into her blanket.

Sitting down beside her bed I dance around the truth of why she cant see her mommy. The first few times I explained to Ashley her mommy is at school, and she's doing her best to finish. Bending down on one knee I scratch her head and wipe her tears away. What am I suppose to say? There's nothing else to say, the truth? She can't comprehend the situation.

This mini melt-down is a bedtime routine of hers and believe me I sympathize with her. I'm the one in the McDonalds parking lot prying her fingers off her mom every visit. It's not her fault, it never was. This little girl deserves to be in a loving home, with her biological mother kissing her goodnight.

What kept me going? Christ crucified.

It started years ago when I was holding my firstborn, Joshua. I peered into his eyes, and he stared back, instant chemistry. He is my world, my little boy; nothing could keep me from him. Then it hit me; I realized every child deserves this type of parental love. It broke me to hear stories of children as young as 2-years-old dying because their parents left them in their crib for five days. How could this happen?

It broke my heart every time, and it happened far too often. I remember tuning into the news, and there was a story about foster children sleeping in CPS offices because they had nowhere to go. CPS could not find enough foster parents to house them. Over two million people live in Austin, Texas and these kids didn't have a place to lay their head.

Isaiah 6:8, came to my mind. "Who shall I send?" God asks Isaiah.

My heart cried, "Here I am Lord, send me."

It wasn't an option anymore; I had to do something. Every night I tucked in my baby boy and fell more in love with him. I could not stand the thought of a child like my boy being beaten, sexually abused, or neglected.

I remember starting the conversation with my wife, who at first was hesitant. Over time the more we talked, the more God opened her heart.

We started researching foster agencies in the Austin area and found roughly four we could choose. Come to find out the government doesn't just give you a child, it's a process. If you're on top of your game and get all the courses and paperwork done, you could be certified to foster in three months, but that wasn't the case for us.

We began our first class, only to find out we had another surprise along the way, our second son, Noah. The whole project went on hold. We still wanted to foster, but we knew that the timing was not right. We heard it was challenging to foster, and we were not ready to take on that challenge with a newborn.

After a year and a half, we were back on the horse again. We started our first training classes.

We showed up five minutes early to our first class, to an empty room. We pulled out our phones, checked our email.

"It says 9:00 A.M.," I said to my wife.

We sat by the office door, and fifteen minutes later the elevator door opened, and a middle-aged southern woman walked out.

"Sorry I'm late," she said sipping a big gulp of sweet tea."Things have been hectic this week; I had a placement at three in the morning. I'm dragging a bit."

We soon realized we were the only ones in the training class. This eight hour Saturday course became a little more personal. Through all the courses we took, we heard some of the most horrific cases. It gives you perspective on how evil this world can be.

Five months and a stack of paperwork later we're certified. We decided during the course that we 're open to receiving siblings, which I don't recommend when you have two children already. Five days later, we get a call just after midnight; it's our foster agent.

"Will, CPS has notified us of a removal of a sibling group of five children. Are you okay with a 1-month-old and a 3-year-old?"

Two hours later we had four children, and our journey began.

To our surprise, we did not receive a 1-month-old, but a 13-month-old. CPS had filled the paperwork out wrong. Surprise! Welcome to dealing with government agencies. It turned out to be a blessing though; it would have been so much harder with an infant.

It was strange at first. Imagine walking through the grocery store with four kids under five years of age, two of which are a different race, people stared. It was crazy, but I liked it that way. I wanted the world to see, what the love of Christ looked like.

There is something about protecting the innocent and being a voice for the voiceless. I believe it speaks volumes in the age of consumerism. In a culture that constantly barrages us with the image of self-prosperity and indulgence. I want to reflect the image of God, who laid his life down for others. If any verse in the bible depicts the life of a foster parent, it's Phillipains 2:17,

"But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you."

From an outside perspective, I can see the ideal picture of fostering. The children are now safe in a stable environment; they have a loving family providing for them, end of story let's close the book. However, every day was a struggle. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was collapse on my bed, and pass out. Every day I resisted the temptation of throwing my hands in the air and saying, "I quit." The reality is you can't quit. Where are these kids going to go?

It takes a lot of energy to take care of children that are not your own. It's not as magical as one might think. I don't want to speak for everyone, but you don't have this, fall in love at first sight moment, with foster children. The relationship takes time and effort, especially for them.

It takes more time for the children to open up because they have been neglected or abused to a certain extent. They don't know how to be loved, couple that with trying your best to show them love. This is not the recipe for instant chemistry. It's a whole different ball game; it's worlds different from how you show love to your biological children.

Our human instincts want to wrap our arms around these kids. Let them know it will be okay and that nothing is going to hurt them. Unfortunately, in most cases, you can't do that right away. They don't want you touching them; they don't want you to show them affection; they don't want to be in your house.

So how do you live day to day with children with deep wounds? There's not a right answer, but I can tell you God saw us through.

Our second placement was the toughest we've had to date. We received 5-year-old Ashley, as I mentioned earlier, and her brother, Jacob, who was 3-years-old.

Within in two days, their biological mother accused my wife and me of being bad parents. Ironic right? Unfortunately, it's common they tell you it's not "if" you'll be accused it's "when." The New York Times has a good article on the topic, False Accusations of Abuse Drive Foster Parents Away. The scary thing is if serious enough CPS opens an investigation. It's sad but true; foster parents are trying to help, and they're going to court to defend false accusations of abuse, or you name it.

For us, the quarrel quieted down within a couple of weeks, and the biological mom began to relax. It's hard to move on from that and not hold a grudge.

Ashley cried almost every night for her mommy, and her little brother was verbally and emotionally delayed. We're trying to watch our every move not to give ground to any false accusations and yet trying to show love the best we know how. Ashley would often speak of the abuse she witnessed while she was with her mother. It was common for her to bring a story up out of nowhere. Our courses prepared us the best they could, but when these issues come up, it's difficult to navigate.

My biological children seemed to have a tough time adapting to the kids. There were constant fights over toys, food, and attention. The house decimal levels raised astronomically, and silence became a precious commodity. I found two weeks into fostering the second go-round I was exhausted. I was constantly stressed and the only thing I wanted to do at night was sleep. It takes a toll on your marriage; it wasn't only me, my wife was going through the same experience.

Date nights were cherished, but they were seldom. To become certified to babysit foster children you must have, a car, a background check, and be CPR certified. Try finding this type of babysitter readily available. Date nights turned into the luxury of silence last few hours of the day.

Although this trial was slowly weathering us emotionally and spiritually, the Church stood with us. The church we attend, Austin Stone, holds a "Parent's Night Out," once a month. If you have foster children, they will watch them for four hours on a Friday night. This small act gave us time to breathe for a moment. The church family created a meal train which allowed us to have a night off from cooking. It wasn't just the church I attended but churches like, HighPoint Fellowship, who has a group of people who make quilts for the kids.

I witnessed the Church functioning as a family; it was a blessing to experience such service. I understand how beautiful the Church can be when we function as the body of Christ.

So the big question is why foster? The answer is simple. Joy.

When you know the grace of God, it pushes you to endure some of the toughest of valleys. God awakened me from the slumber of death and showed me his glorious forgiveness. When I was an orphan, he took me in as his own. He stripped my rags from me and clothed me in royal garments.

There is joy in suffering when you know you are worthy of suffering for Christ. I had the honor to lay my suffering down at the feet of God as a sacrifice. For the first time, I understood what it meant to pick up my cross daily. I must take on the attitude of Christ, "Thy will not my will be done."

Fostering is difficult, but it also is rewarding. As a foster parent, you have the privilege to help mend a broken heart. You get to speak life into a child's life for the first time. If you are lucky enough, you see the first fruits of love sprout from their heart. Yes, the valley of fostering is deep, but you soar to new heights on the mountaintop.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world," Phil 1:27.

Will Vining is a passionate follower of Jesus who lives in Austin, Texas. In his free time, he enjoys writing and going to the lake with his family.
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