The Kindling of Community
Our youngest son had gone to the doctor a couple days before and our pediatrician had confirmed it–strep. He told us our 8-day-old foster daughter wasn’t in danger of getting it, but by the middle of the first full day of her being in our home, my youngest son and oldest son were down with strep. And now, it was 2 o’clock in the morning, and my wife Katie was up feeding and rocking our foster daughter. The scratch in her throat spelled trouble.
Katie was exhausted, still trying to process having this precious little baby in our home and family, and as the wee hours turned into morning, she felt worse. Less than 24 hours into our first placement we were in trouble. We had a lot to process in that window of time. One thing we didn’t have to think about? Meals.
You see, before we received the placement of our daughter, a group of friends and family became an organized Care Community. Their first act of service was to give us a large freezer and once we received placement, our Care Community stocked our freezer with meals and scheduled a meal calendar to help us out on a weekly basis. Each week on the same evening, just about the time we would need to start preparing dinner, we’d get a knock at the door. It became a comforting sight to have friends walk in with a delicious meal. They would pray over us, listen to our ups and downs as we adjusted to our new status as a foster family, help change diapers, play with our two sons, feed our daughter a bottle, or simply rock her for a few moments.
These small gestures of community made a tremendous impact on my family.
I had heard that part of fostering meant not just serving and taking care of the child brought into your home, but also learning to be served yourself. I struggled with that. I think it was because I wanted to foster from a position of our strength. And yet, sometimes God can do more through our weakness.
Being served by our Care Community meant bringing family and friends into contact with the day-to-day needs of our foster daughter. They got to hold her, watch her grow and watch us as a family being transformed by her presence in our lives. Looking back, I think a lot of lives were being changed directly and indirectly.
Serving our family became a stepping stone for others. A family serving in our Care Community eventually became a foster family. And two more families adopted children. And once we adopted our foster daughter, some on our team transitioned to expanded roles in other Care Communities for foster families in our church.
If we had tried to do all of it ourselves, we would have failed spectacularly– even struggling mightily in those first 24 hours of our initial placement. But even worse, we wouldn’t have opened ourselves up to the wonderful gift of community God gave us through our team of support.
I like the visual of community that Dallas Willard uses in The Spirit of the Disciplines. He says,
“The fire of God kindles higher as the brands are heaped together and each is warmed by the other’s flame. The members of the body must be in contact if they are to sustain and be sustained by each other…. Christian redemption is not devised to be a solitary thing, though each individual of course, has a unique and direct relationship with God, and God alone is his or her Lord and Judge. But The Life is one that requires some regular and professional conjunction with others who share it. It is greatly diminished when that is lacking.”
In some ways, fostering is definitely a calling to “The Life,” and in this case, our “Life” is diminished–colder–when we don’t share it in the context of God’s larger story. Our flame will lack intensity because the warmth and blessing of giving and receiving in community is absent. God uses those around us, those in His fellowship, to hem us in with His love as we share our hardships and joys.
If you are a foster family, allow yourself to be served. To be served by a Care Community and to experience the joy found in community enriches both foster parents and the children being fostered. Bio and foster children alike learn that not only does their family share love in life-giving ways, but they observe the example of their caretakers being gracious and trusting receivers.
If you are not directly caring for vulnerable children right now, embrace the opportunity to serve in a Care Community. Lean in close and be warmed by of the transformation that God brings to foster families and children giving and receiving healing love.
Graham Garrison is a magazine editor and the author of Hero’s Tribute and Legacy Road. He and his wife, Katie, have three children and were foster parents for 16 months before adopting. They are currently Foster Care Advocates at their church, Mount Pisgah United Methodist, in Johns Creek, Georgia.
(Photo by Toa Heftiba)