I Am Mephibosheth (Christ’s Glory in Fostering & Adoption)

“So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons. . . . Now he was lame in both feet.” (2 Sam 9.11b, 13c)

“While we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons. So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4.3-4a, 5b, 7)

We woke up one April morning in 2008 with one child.  We would go to sleep that same night with three.  As foster parents, God schooled us about children, the State, welfare and depravity (especially ours).  He still schools us in the gospel.  We’re all grandsons of Saul, lame in both feet, and dependent on the King’s mercy. I regularly revisit these thoughts we had at the time and hope to encourage anyone considering fostering and/or adoption.

1. A real world of darkness and depravity is not nearly as far away as you think.  It’s not out there.  It’s right there.  It’s right here. Hell is real and gleefully torments the least of those among us and next door to us.  My middle-class, white, suburbanist bourgeoisie could neither isolate nor inoculate us.  Nor should it.

2. During our process we heard from Christians a strange misunderstanding and misrepresentation of God’s sovereignty. Many said, “I couldn’t foster children because you put so much into them only to have them leave one day.  I couldn’t take that pain.”  Or, “What if the birth parents come and take their children back?” (obviously, there are careful legalities to prevent this).  How should we answer?

One, if a foster child returns home it will and should be painful.  That’s the price of love. We trust God will meet us with strengthening grace then. We believe God will help understand more of his own love and become more like Jesus through it.

Two, why not have the same perspective with biological children (or anything else for that matter)? Does God owe your “biokids” another day simply because they’re genetically yours? As certainly as God may send our foster children back home tomorrow, can he not call your biological child home all the same? We must hold all God’s gifts loosely. Thankfully and joyfully, but loosely.

Three, God did not temper his commitment to us by the amount of pain that commitment might cause. If we only did things that carried little-to-no risk of pain we’d know very little of the abundant life and resurrection of Christ (Phil 3.10; 1 Pt 4.12-13).

3. The State is God’s gift for restraining evil and rewarding good (Rom 13.1-7). But it is not a parent. God intends the State wield the sword, not a rattle. More Christians need to be involved in fostering and adoption. I say that as a recovering pious snot who who not so long ago thumbed his nose at “those people who need to get a J.O.B.”  It’s just not that simple.

Christians exhaust themselves complaining about the welfare system. Its the government’s fault kids are wasted and schools are dangerous. That may be true in part but our inaction has demonstrated faithlessness in the gospel to remedy social ills. We’ve buried our heads in the sand, refusing to put God on display to the world. Fostering and adoption provide a tremendous opportunity to prove that the gospel-centered worldview can and will do far more than “the system.”

In fact, the system is largely set up to perpetuate itself.  More federal dollars for more impoverished people mean keeping people impoverished to get more federal dollars.  And more politicians re-elected. Children become the commodity that drives the market.

This is not a political issue, but a spiritual one. You want to see public schools change in fifteen years? You want to see children who know more about God’s glory in creation than man’s glory in XBox? Don’t look to a secular government for help. By faith, foster and/or adopt. Multiply that perspective throughout the church and our communities look much different in a decade.

Is our faith in the government or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we believe King Jesus to be a far better caregiver than Caesar?

Not all Christians should foster and/or adopt children, but more should than do. Let’s not couch this in terms of “calling.” We often justify disobedience to Scripture by claiming we’re not “called” to this or that (see Jas 1.27). There is one “Calling” and that’s to Christ (Eph 4.4). All efforts thereafter are outworkings of faith in that Calling.

Is fostering/adoption something you’d like to do? Do you have opportunity? Refuse to calculate on paper all the costs, or possible outcomes to all the “what ifs.” Don’t overthink it or you’ll never do it. Step out on faith, start the process and see if God prospers it. Maybe he does; maybe he doesn’t.  But be willing to put God on display for all your world to see. What better picture of the gospel could we paint for our communities than reaching into darkness to rescue helpless children from condemnation?  Perhaps you will sow more seeds than gather more fruit.

Know it will be hard, though.  Very hard, with many dim, heart-wrenching days.  Keep your eyes as open as your heart.

4.   Poverty is not necessarily sin and I am not a better parent because I could provide a few more toys.  I regularly and foolishly thought, “Clearly our home is better.  These kids shouldn’t go home to a one-bedroom apartment to live on food stamps.  Obviously, we’re better because we’re wealthier.”  May God have mercy.  We weren’t doing the world a favor.

Better that children have less and be loved more.  May God protect our children from becoming as snotty as I was.  Poverty doesn’t make anyone a bad parent. In fact, I wonder if affluence might do more to hinder good parenting than poverty.       

5. Fostering/adopting have helped us understand the gospel better. We have a small, but real, taste of God’s compassion for us. Staring into the eyes of abused children is to stare into a mirror. Children stuck in hellish situations is a part of a world where all of us are born slaves to sin. As bad as an abusive home is in this life it’s nothing compared to hell’s eternal abuse. To pity wards of the State is to understand God’s pity for me, otherwise a ward of Satan.

Fostering/adoption is making a child in fact what he/she is not by nature. God makes us in fact what we are not by nature: his children with all the rights and privileges of heaven. We are lame children who sit at the King’s table and feast on his finest menu (2 Sam 9.11, 13). We don’t call him “Mr. God” but like Jesus, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6).  We pray as sons of God. Therefore, to foster/adopt is to write a living tract, a living parable, of God’s love for the least.

We also understand a little better that for there to be redemption God must tolerate (in fact, sovereignly allow) abuse. Our joy in fostering came at a huge expense.  A family had to dissolve and children had to suffer abuse. Likewise, God’s joy came at the universe’s ultimate expense: the death of his One and Only Son (see Acts 2.23; 4.28). It’s a hard truth to stomach but God must let sin takes its course so Grace can take its place.

While I’m thankful for two new children in whom we’ve invested for seven years now, I’m more thankful for children through whom God has invested in me. They’ve helped me understand that I was born on the other side of the tracks, too.

I am Mephibosheth.

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