This article is one in a series that Vital magazine is producing as part of National Adoption Awareness month, and I'm sharing it with you because I thought it was very good.
One of the Bible's most consistent commands is to care for the "least of these," give a voice to the voiceless, and take care of the orphans and widows. Though not everyone is called to be an adoptive or foster family, everyone can support this command through donating time, money, and a helping hand to the ones with boots on the ground.
Some of those boots on the ground are Mark Forrester and his family - wife Janine and their 4-year-old son, Greyson. The Forresters are foster parents in Missouri, and Vital magazine talked to Mark about what it's like for he and his wife as foster parents and what the church community can do to support other families like his.
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Janine, is a principal at Watkins Elementary in Springfield. We have been married for 9 years. We have a 4-year-old son, Greyson.
What is your history with foster care?
Both my wife and I have had exposure to foster care since childhood. My father-in-law was adopted from foster-care at the age of 12. My parents kept foster children for years.
Before we got married, my wife and I talked about having a biological child and then looking into foster care, and possibly adoption, should the opportunity arise. We became licensed foster care providers the same week that we found out that Janine was pregnant with Greyson. We ended up putting the process on hold for a couple of years. By the end of 2014, we had re-certified our foster care license. We had our first placement in January 2015.
What led you to become foster parents?
We live in Springfield, Missouri, which is in Greene County. The rate of child abuse and neglect is extremely high in Greene County. 2013 estimates were that, on average, Greene County had 837 children in care at any given time. With my involvement in community outreach and my wife's involvement in low-income public education, we saw these cases first-hand and wanted to make a difference - even in just one life.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me are the unknowns. In foster-care, so much can change on any given day. There are so many variables that it is impossible to adequately predict the next step at any given moment. A mentor of mine once said that love is really spelled R-I-S-K. The selfish reaction to the unknowns is withdrawal or avoidance. I can't even think of the joy we would have missed over the last several months if we didn't "risk" and reach out to love, despite the unknowns.
What has been the biggest bright spot?
To see our little foster-child grow, develop, and mature has been amazing. It's like watching a flower bloom. Kids have limitless potential and they're remarkably resilient. (Cliché alert) She's really helped us more than we've helped her.
How do you balance relationships of your foster child with your biological child?
It was important to us to maintain the birth order in our placement. Greyson is very much a "first child." We knew that it would be much more difficult for him and his personality if that birth order were not maintained. Early on, I believe all the attention was difficult for him to understand.
A mentor of mine once said that love is really spelled R-I-S-K. The selfish reaction to the unknowns is withdrawal or avoidance. I can't even think of the joy we would have missed over the last several months if we didn't "risk" and reach out to love, despite the unknowns.
Suddenly we had constant visitors: volunteers, case workers, licensing workers, attorneys, child advocates. None of these people were coming to see him. That's difficult for a 4-year-old child to grasp. He's done remarkably well.
What do you wish other people knew about being a foster parent?
Don't let the vastness of the problem keep you from making a difference. It doesn't matter to our little one that there are 836 more like her in our county. She wouldn't be able to comprehend that. It matters to her that we are there for her now. The book of Isaiah opens with a vision. The message is clear: "Enough with the meetings and offerings. Take care of the fatherless and widows."
Foster parenting isn't for everyone. But everyone can do something to speak up for those who have no voice. Whether you're a court-appointed volunteer, a respite provider, or even a friend that is there in a pinch, you're part of the process that's helping a child through their darkest hour. What could be more important than that?
What has been the greatest source of help for your family?
We have an incredible support network. I really think that's essential. Our family is always there when needed, even in a moment's notice. My co-workers have stepped in for respite care and support. My wife's staff even threw an impromptu shower for her within days of our first placement. Without the support of our network of friends, I'm sure our experience would be vastly different.
What resources would you recommend to someone considering becoming a foster family?
I would encourage prospective foster parents to connect to their local community resources. For many new foster families, this is a completely foreign world. I think you'll find most foster families eager and willing to share information, tips, or even give a helping hand.
Most communities even have social media groups for foster families to connect with each other for support and resources. And about those resources - don't be too proud to accept them!