Lately Joy and I have been in a little bit of a funk. With everything going on it’s been difficult to connect in sensible and meaningful ways, and the stress of it all has left us feeling divided and isolated more times than not. We both know that it’s through no fault of our own; it’s just difficult to pause long enough in the midst of the chaos to check in and see how the other one is doing. I think we often times take the stability of our marriage and spouse for granted, forgetting that this relationship is the anchor to which all other relationships are secured, and neglecting it many times results in feeling adrift with no way back to shore. I will say though, that without any doubt, where we’re at right now is a direct result of being foster parents.
On that note, whenever I’m asked what it’s like to foster I try my best to be honest. It usually requires me to pause and reflect on my experiences a bit to make sure that I convey the somber gravity of what we’re coming face to face with but also the faithful and unrelenting hope that we experience in the midst of it. That when we feel the breath of someone else’s demons on our necks, we don’t falter. In reality though I have to be honest and say that I falter nearly on a daily basis. Fostering requires sacrifice and there’s no way around that, and it requires a depth of selflessness that I have yet to see the bottom of. It causes me to question whether or not I or our marriage have the ability to withstand the constant onslaught of doubts, emotional upheaval, and attempted wedges between us. The very nature of welcoming a traumatized child into your home will make you perpetually physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually depleted. But in the words of the famous Aragorn (That’s the protagonist from Lord of the Rings for you non-nerds out there), “there is always hope.”
In fact, just this morning, on the tail end of a rough week, Joy and I got an email from our caseworker who said a local church was having their small groups “adopt” a foster family. Their small groups wanted to serve foster families by helping with things like lawn care, babysitting, making meals, encouragement, or providing transportation for the kiddos to some of their numerous appointments. I believe this was a perfectly timed and well orchestrated event as a way for God to remind us that He’s got our backs, and throughout our time as foster parents, we’ve experienced this kind of faithfulness and hope over and over again. Without fail, when we’re at our wits’ end and lacking in the needed strength, God always provides in abundance.
I say all that to paint the two very different sides to the “coin” of fostering. It’s an odd mix of devastatingly difficult yet exponentially more encouraging. Fostering done right is utterly exhausting for us for a short time. Fostering done wrong is exhausting for our kids forever; because they could spend their entire lives searching for something that they’ve never experienced.
So to summarize where we’re at: We felt God was calling us to foster. Our faith compels us to love those around us and welcoming kids from hard places into our home was something that we felt was a “Jordan River” moment where we had to choose between saying yes or going back to the desert (See A Name To Remember for an expanded explanation of this story). We said yes and are now full time foster parents. We are exactly where God led us to and yet some times feel as though he’s led us “here to die” as the Israelites once lamented. There is no better depiction of this than the story of Job (pronounced Jobe). The story is 42 chapters long, but the summary goes like this:
Job was a rich dude. In fact, he was the richest guy in his area. The story says he had 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. I don’t really know much about camels, but I know that 3,000 is a lot. The story says that Job was blameless and had complete integrity. So he was rich and just an all around great guy.
Then Satan strolls up into Heaven and bets God that he can get Job to curse Him. God says to give it a try but not to harm Job physically. Satan agrees and goes about his devious ways. The story then fast forwards to one lazy afternoon when Job’s kids are all eating dinner at one of their houses and a messenger bursts into Job’s house(Job 1:13):
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: ‘Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: ‘The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: ‘Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’
Yup, that just happened. In a matter of what seems like minutes, Job’s life is forever changed. He has lived a pretty good life up until now by loving and serving God, loving those around him, and stewarding his resources wisely. Up until now he has reaped the benefits of his labor. The story continues and Satan bets God that he can break Job’s integrity and faith (Spoiler: he never succeeds) if he takes his health. The situation goes from bad to worse when Job:
- Loses his wealth
- Loses his kids
- Loses his wife
- Loses his health
- Loses his friends
This is sometimes what it feels like to foster. When an inherently tough situation gets worse with every report. Every chapter of Job’s story brings something new to stress about and get angry with. He knew that God was out there, but spent almost the entirety of what is written both questioning God’s judgment and wisdom, and arguing with his “friends” in defense of God.
In the conclusion to Job’s story, God restored everything back to Job with twice as much as he had before. This does not mean that God is a cosmic vending machine who gives out blessings like Oprah on a farewell tour. It was a way of telling us today that God is faithful and capable of giving us everything that we need.
So, now to bring it back around to where Joy and I are at. How do we keep our marriage healthy (or repair it)despite feeling constantly under siege? That’s a great question and I unfortunately don’t have all the answers. But here’s what I do know that helps:
1. Live in community: Life was never meant to be lived alone. It might sound inspirational when we hear about someone achieving something great on their own but the reality is that this road is fraught with loneliness and pitfalls. So build relationships with people who will encourage and hold you accountable when it’s needed but who are also willing just to sit with you silently during the really hard times. In Job chapter 2 it says:
When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.
2. Cry out to God. Like the best of friends, God’s not afraid of our pain and anger. If I’m hurting, it’s OK to cry out to God. In fact, just like Job, God may use that opportunity to remind me of just how big He is and how capable He is of providing for me.
3. Choose Love. For me, this is the hardest part. It’s easy choosing to love those we aren’t close to. It’s much harder to set the pattern of consistently loving those we are closest to. For many marriages this means to simply prioritize each other. Set aside time each day, even if for 10 minutes, to connect and hear about each other’s days. Don’t wait until bedtime to do this because then all you’re getting is leftovers. A car doesn’t run best on fumes, and neither do marriages.
This also means to make dating a priority. This is where I come up short big time in our marriage. In the hustle and bustle of life, months could pass without me taking my wife on a date. I know, it sounds horrible even as I write it, which is why I really want to make this a top priority (and the accountability in #1 is a great way to help with this).
So. I’ve said a lot because I have a lot of thoughts. I don’t have all the answers but fostering has provided ample opportunities to examine what we do right and what we need to improve. As a result of that, I think these 3 tips might help to strengthen a weak or down trodden marriage.
Live in community. Cry out to God. Choose Love.