On finding peace in grief as an agnostic foster parent

I am not a religious person.

The last time I set foot in a church was pre-COVID at the request of my 8 year old foster daughter. The time before that was a decade ago if not more. To be honest it made my skin crawl. I felt walled in. I sat in the pew and fidgeted.  I grimaced during the “shake hands with your neighbor” portion of the service. (Again, pre-COVID, when we didn’t know handshakes were actually deadly.)

I read the church bulletin and counted how many of each letters there were in the entire thing, over and over through the duration of the service. I was itching to get out of there and bitter that I was back in a church.

This wasn’t even a traditional church. It was a fairly liberal and unorthodox “spiritual center.” They played folk music as the sermon commenced and the believers dispersed to have donuts, coffee and small talk in the recreation room. (I don’t eat donuts, despise small talk and coffee makes my stomach turn if I have more than a cup a day. I am 75% convinced my daughter keeps asking to go back just for the donuts.)

I associate church with judgement and deep shame. I was told repeatedly throughout my adolescence that I was unworthy, dirty, broken and wrong by church-going people from the various Baptist/Radical evangelical/Traditional Christian/whatever churches my family frequented who felt my validity and existence as a queer person was up for debate. So I stopped going, because fuck that.

But more and more as we journey down this road of foster care I feel the need to believe in something. We have entered this world where broken is the norm. Where parents discard their children. Where abandoned children come to my home hurting and angry. Where we turn our lives upside down again and again for the sake of giving a child a safe place for a season when everyone else has said no.

This journey is breaking me down. I am realizing with every loss that it’s not about me or my infertile body. It’s not about my broken heart. It’s not about my marriage or our deep, delirious desire to have a forever family. We bring these kids into our home because someone has to. Every child deserves love, routine, stability, a hug and kiss goodnight and someone who gives a shit about their future. I think we all know this.

But it’s hard to keep that in mind when you are in the thick of it –  with all the hope and raw emotion and paperwork and therapy appointments and late nights and early mornings and special needs and stupid questions by those who don’t get it and hyper vigilance in your own mind and body because you don’t know what is going to happen next in your own home, life, future, etc – without assurance that this will be WORTH IT, in the end. I feel like I am losing my mind most days.

Hence, the need to believe in something.

The seasons change so quickly when you are in this world of foster care that it’s a little disorienting and you start to wonder where exactly things will end up, does anyone have a plan here? It’s maddening.

The concept of seasons has become comforting to me as we move kids in and out, as we say yes, as we search, as we grow, as we endure, as we rest (?? We don’t really rest to be honest.)

I am not a religious person (and I am more familiar with the Byrds Turn! Turn! Turn version of this sentiment) but this verse has always resonated with me.

Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2     a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
When I looked that passage up to copy it in I actually read down a few more verses and didn’t even realize how spot on the rest of it is. I am skeptical of “god” in the traditional sense but this speaks to me, god aside. Swap in Universe for “Old man in the sky” and I can get behind it.
What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil.

Satisfaction in the toil. That about sums up foster care right there.

Our family is in such season of mourning right now. I feel numb inside. I am grieving the baby and all the hope she represented for us. I feel as if I move in slow motion as I care for these two kids who are off to another adoptive home in mere months. I am angry. I am worried for my long-term kids with their angst and special needs and hurts. I am frustrated. It’s hard to find hope.

The small moments help with that if I can find them. We took our older kids to the beach this weekend while the younger girls visited their adoptive home, We joked around, we roughhoused and played, we talked, we had fun. There was a lightness in our interactions that I haven’t felt in awhile and it gave me a bit of hope. Our season of happiness, of healing, of laughter is coming. We have had it before and we will have it again, But first we have to ride this wave of grief, find satisfaction in the work left to be done and trust we will make it out to the other side. I don’t know what the future holds or if there is any grand plan or what that could even entail. But I can find satisfaction in the work in front of me right now and continue on for these kids.

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