We are roughly a month into being overnight parents, and amidst the flurry and the chaos, I’m learning two incredible lessons.
Oh. My. Goodness. Moms and Dads of the world—I thank you. I shout from the mountaintop that your (usually unseen) love and sacrifice is seriously what makes the world go ‘round. We are a little ways in, and we are already realizing how hard this is, but also how rewarding it is.
I can see, in just a few short weeks, how much little investments bear much fruit. (Did you see that Cole?! He ate the green bean and clapped because we praised him yesterday for doing it! He stayed away from the fireplace this time because we taught him that last week! He’s learning!)
It’s amazing to know that God used you to do that in a little life. This kid is going to grow up, regardless of me. But I get to teach him important lessons along the way that will give him some little handlebars to navigate this path called life. In this season of his life, no one else gets to offer him these things the way that we are right now. That’s incredible and humbling at the same time.
And then there’s the flip side. I can also see why the “this parenting thing is hard” posts spread like wildfire on social media. Because, y’all, this parenting thing is hard.
I don’t sleep like I used to, and I don’t know if I ever will again. I’m in a constant mess, and no amount of cleaning up will save me from the next one. I often wonder when I showered last, and I can’t remember if I actually ate breakfast or not. Sacrifice isn’t some noble idea anymore. It’s a given. It’s required. It’s everyday, all the time. It’s the only way Baby Boy is going to eat, or learn, or sleep, or get clean, or grow.
I will say it again: parents. are. heroes.
All of these lessons—the enjoyment and the sacrifice of helping a little one flourish—has brought me to my knees in happy worship of the God who does all these things for us.
We take for granted that Jesus tells us to consider God our “Father” (Matt. 6:9).
(Note: While it’s commonplace to use the phrase “we are all God’s children,” that’s a uniquely Judeo-Christian idea and found only in the Christian sacred text. It sounds nice, but it’s not true. God is not Father in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or Paganism. In those religions, the Divine does a lot of things, but lovingly “fathering” you is not one of them. The idea of being a “child” of the Divine can even be offensive in some religions. I don’t say this to turn my nose up, but to educate about common misconceptions about world religions).
One beautiful part of my faith I’m learning right now is how the Father parents us. More than it simply being some idea I spout off in prayer (Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…), parenting has given me the tangibles of what that means day to day and just how involved our Father really is.
Through fostering Baby Boy, I’m learning just how hands-on parenting is, how much of my attention it requires, and how meticulous my involvement must be, else little man would probably burn our house down or accidentally hurt himself!
If Baby Boy wobbled through life according to what seemed right to him, according to his own fancies and rules, we can all agree that he’d end up hurt. It would never strike him that perhaps the “1 year old perspective” on the world isn’t always right or the most accurate. But he can’t help that. He’s 1 for crying out loud. It’s my job to help him grow and widen his perspective over time, teaching him that while it’s sad to learn you were wrong about the electrical socket, it’s happy to stay alive! Maybe, just maybe, I know more than you about how the world works, little man. Trust me, I’ll teach you the ropes.
And through the meal-making, diaper changing, and constant re-direction, I finally realize what Jesus means when he calls God our Heavenly Parent.
He’s not far-off, assuming we will safely make it on our own, letting us roam according to our own fancies and rules. And to be frank, in our human world, that would be considered child neglect.
The Father knows we’d probably burn our blessings to the ground or get ourselves hurt left to our own devices. Instead, he’s right here, helping us. Hands-on. Instead of neglectful, he’s meticulously and laughingly engaged. (After all, he’s called the “God with us” and the “God in us,” not the “God far off”)
As my pastor once said regarding wisdom, the gap between me and God is exponentially wider than the gap between me and Baby Boy. If I know Baby Boy needs help deciphering good and bad, right and wrong, how much more do I need God to help me do the same?
As I parent Baby Boy, I realize I’m not much different than him. I’m only 30 for crying out loud. Perhaps the “30 year old perspective” on the world isn’t always right or the most accurate. But I can’t help that. I’m only 30 for crying out loud. And so it’s God’s job to help me grow and widen my perspective over time. Instead of viewing his instruction over me as “oppressive” (as Baby Boy does some days!), I see now in vibrant clarity that it’s really just basic parenting. It’s God not neglecting me, but guiding me instead.
I must come to him and say, maybe, just maybe, you know more than I do about how the world works. Perhaps I should trust you to teach me the ropes, and let you correct me through your Word even if it stings.
And so God enters in:
In all ways, the biblical Father lovingly stoops to meet us in all these things (Ps. 116:2), just as Baby Boy needs me to stoop to his level and meet him where he is.
What amazes me is that he does this at no deficit. While we are limited and weak, needing to be “filled back up” after a draining day with a child, God never operates like that with his children. He is always filled up. He never gets tired of us. His capacity is always at 100%. He never needs a break from us. He is not exhausted by our needs, our hands ever reaching up to him, our knocking on his door. His cup pours out for us, yet never needs refilling. He’s ready to meet us because he is not finite, but infinite. He’s never hoping for “alone time” away from us, as if he needed that. Instead, a major message of his Word is that he desires to dwell with us forever (Rev. 21:3)!
It’s mind blowing: he wants to do all these things, all the time, for us. This is our God.
While these lessons can be learned in any type of parenting, what makes them especially poignant for me is that fostercare is a uniquely chosen, purposeful thing. While I didn’t make the connection at the time, I realize it now:
God didn’t “need” us to make him complete anymore than Cole and I “needed” to foster a child in order to be complete. God chose to draw near to our situation. He didn’t have to. He wanted to. He wasn’t required to bring us into his heavenly family, but he did. Instead of simply “sticking to his own,” God orchestrated a beautiful and complex plan to intentionally move toward outsiders.
This is the part that grips my heart, the part of the conversation that fostercare (and adoption) bring to the table in a unique way. We moved toward fostercare not because it was convenient or natural, but because we wanted to embody the God who draws people into his family. The heart of the Heavenly Parent says to those outside of his circle: it may not seem like you ‘belong’ here according to the world standards, but I’ll make a way for you to come inside. Yes, come dwell with me.
Yes, we follow the scandalous God of the outsider. The Parent of the struggling. The Family of the marginalized. The Pursuer of those outside his circle. It only follows that his people should reflect him in these ways.
I praise him at the end of every day: thank you for loving me like that. I can barely wrap my head around it, but thank you.
The final question for me is if I really believe he loves this way, will I listen to him? Will I trust his divine perspective more trustworthy than mine?
To be honest, Baby Boy is doing a better job listening to me and trusting what I say that I do with God.
I can sense the Lord teaching me so much through Baby Boy—will you read my Word, and trust that maybe, just maybe, I know what I’m talking about? Or do you believe you have the market on life? That your internal compass won’t lead you to an electrical socket at some point? Do you believe your perspective is the right one? Do you think your views on the world you are wobbling through are infallible, unchallengeable? Or will you trust me to Parent you and give you handlebars to lead you down the proper path?
I must make my decision daily as God stoops to father me in grace. Will you trust me like Baby Boy trusts you? Or will you throw a fit because something I’ve said offends your limited perspective? Daughter, look at Baby Boy and learn. Trust like him, and you will flourish.
My answer, a lot like Baby Boy’s sometimes, is a skeptical but hopeful yes.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Follow Ashley and Cole’s Foster Journey: #overnightmama.
Read about the night they got placed with a foster child here.
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