When I was first born my parents were living on a countryside in rural Missouri. They rented a big, old farm house bordering the Missouri State Penitentiary that had a life of its own, including mushrooms growing from the carpet, a swarm of wasps nesting in the ceiling, an army of ants infesting the downstairs closet and so much dampness that anything made of metal soon rusted…not to mention the bricks that had to be placed under the furniture to correct the uneven floors! My parents were newly married and my father had just taken a job as a minister for a itty bitty country church. Their income was well below what it takes to raise a family of 3 and this rundown, old farm house was the best they could do with what they were given.
My parents have told my siblings and me stories throughout the years of how my mom found a tiny little snake crawling in the house and put a trashcan over it while she called my father crying, frantic for him to get home. Mind you she was very pregnant with me at the time so I’m thinking this is where my incessant fear of snakes and reptiles comes from! Nonetheless my father came home to fight off the big, bad, slithery creature and reassure my mom that she would be okay, that it was just a snake and it was more afraid of her than she was of it. (Little did she know there were other, much larger snakes found in the house my dad never told her about until years later.)
When I think back to these stories and many more that my parents have told me over the course of my 26 years of life I can’t help but see how even those events from my very young childhood have shaped me into the person I am today. You see at that time I was no more than an infant. I didn’t know when wasps were swarming above my head, or when prison escapees had fled to the area around my parents’ home and everyone was told to be on high alert. I didn’t have fear at such a young age. My parents kept all that fear from me. They protected me from the snakes, the rust, the sinking floorboards, and even the prison escapees. They kept me safe because I was their daughter and that was their job as parents, to love and protect me from any and all harm.
About 6 months ago my father shared another story with me about the old farmhouse. It wasn’t one I had ever heard before but he referenced it with the most beautiful metaphor. He said:
“I still remember the day I sat in an old house in my make shift office upstairs holding you in my arms and having your eyes, alert and focused on my every move, looking intently at me as to say, “Who are you and more importantly, what are you going to do with me?” This day, you were less than a week old and your mother and I found ourselves beginning a new journey in life as first time parents, literally scared to death because we had never walked in this territory before. Sitting still was not easy as I held you because literally the ceiling was crawling with wasps that had hatched out and were crawling everywhere in our little room of togetherness in the office place. So, I sat quietly and held you tightly and decided that the first time one of these awful creatures tried to hurt my daughter, they would be squished immediately. It was one of our first big bonding moments together. Today, you sit in your home and the “Wasps of life” are swarming once again, but this time I am separated many miles from you and all I can do is trust that God, your heavenly Father, will hold you and take care of the wasps as they come. And I believe He will. So today, you bond even more so with the one who is your protector – Your Heavenly Father.”
My father, my earthly one, protected me that day from the wasps swarming in the room. He knew that protecting me meant potentially getting hurt himself, but he didn’t care. He loved me and he would do whatever it took to keep me safe. The weight of this responsibility weighs heavily on me when I think of the role I have taken on as a foster mom. These children come into our home, many times with parents that have made decisions that have put their very own flesh and blood in harms way, and these children are broken. They are swimming in a life full of wasps. They are surrounded with pain from every corner, their biological families, their loss, the system, everything. It’s all so heavy and using the metaphor of a wasp somehow doesn’t even compare to how bad it really is sometimes. These children need a protector. They need a human mother or father to stand up and care for them when they’ve been left in vulnerable situations. They need someone who will say, “I don’t care if I get hurt, because that means I’m doing my job. It means that you’re safe and loved.”
When people tell me they could never be foster parents because they don’t know how they would ever say goodbye, I get where they’re coming from. I understand. It’s painful to love someone so much only to see them go, especially when they’re being sent back into a less than ideal situation. But what’s the alternative? The alternative is to have children sitting in shelters and group homes with NO ONE as their protector. The alternative is to have a baby laying in a hospital for weeks because there are no families to care for a newborn or a medically fragile child. The alternatives don’t take into account who will stand up for that child when harm comes their way. They don’t consider what will happen when they need services, emotional support, stability, or just love in general. Who will be there for them? Who?
When we began fostering we went into it for ALL the WRONG reasons. We pursued foster care to adopt. That was our intention. I had no interest in forming relationships with birth families, supporting reunification, establishing bonds with social workers, therapists, and relatives. I wanted a child and this was the fastest way for me to become a mom since infertility was at play. I realize now how selfish that was of me, but I also realize how God worked in me to change my heart. I realize now that it took that selfish desire for God to get me where He wanted me to be and then He did the rest. He did the rest by loving me and providing for me even in the midst of pain and heartbreak. He was there for me by calming my anxious heart and easing my frustrations when cases, children, workers, and the system were all up against me. My Heavenly Father has been there protecting me and it’s now my passion to continue loving and caring for children who need nothing more than a loving protector. I want to be the one turning their wasps into butterflies.
My father put it so beautifully in his words to me. He said “The wasps became butterflies. The terrible became the terrific. The pests became a life of God’s promises. And it came with a lot of unknown, tears, regrets, and moments of just pure ugly grief.” The wasps have finally formed into butterflies. I see the beauty in the broken now. I see how the darkness turns to light and how the pain becomes love. I have seen just how ugly the grief can be, like when we said goodbye to Baby Girl and our boys, but I’ve also seen how perfectly wonderful the joy can be, like when we finally saw progress in E and his attachment and behaviors, or when we were officially asked to be Baby Girl’s godparents.
It’s true that in foster care there are many wasps, sometimes they are in swarms, hatching all around you, captivating every square inch of your life, but if you can just see past the pain, you will see just how big and beautiful the butterflies are.