by London Gutekunst, grade 7
Some crosses are forced on us, others are taken up by choice. I remember the day that my parents shared that they were discerning opening our home to unaccompanied refugee minors in need of foster care. As they were speaking to me, I envisioned us standing at the beginning of a long, rough road holding a cross. At the start of this path, there lay one more cross. My mom told me that fostering a child might be the most difficult thing in my childhood life. But I knew that Christ was calling our family to this cross, and we decided to take it up as a family.
Thankfully, when we say yes to a cross, Jesus never makes us carry it alone. He helps us. He makes it lighter. He uses it to sanctify us. Our first placement was the most challenging. Her name was Mary.* She suffered from severe abuse and PTSD. As heavy as my crosses sometimes feel, I don’t doubt that hers were heavier. It did not take long for me to begin to regret my yes. I had to give so much that sometimes I felt like I had nothing left to give. There were many things that discouraged me.
One thing that was difficult for me was sharing my parents’ attention. Sometimes it felt like they were too busy for me. Other times I felt unloved, like nobody cared, because everyone was so concerned about Mary. I had to share my space, my books, and my toys. I also had to sacrifice some of my time. I had to babysit my siblings while my mom took her places. I had to watch my little brother while counselors and therapists were at our house.
The emotional toll on me was also hard. I was called to be kind even when she was not, and even when—from her brokenness—she purposely tried to hurt me with her words. The constant stream of people—counselors, therapists, life skills specialists—always at our house stressed me out. It was never just our family. Some nights I would sit in my room and cry, telling God that I couldn’t take anymore. At those times, God would send me a sign to remind me that I was not alone. My mom would come and sit and talk with me in my room. My dad would sometimes poke his head in and ask me if I wanted to go out for lunch or to get snow cones. We call them daddy-daughter dates. I even had times with Mary that I really enjoyed. She loved as best as she could. Though all of this was difficult, I took comfort in the fact that I was not only carrying my own cross but helping someone else to carry her own, just as Simon helped Jesus carry his.
Mary has now moved on, but my experience of loving her will leave an imprint on my heart forever. I grew in many ways. Through God’s grace, I grew in the virtues of kindness and patience. I love knowing that I am making a real difference in the world and in the life of our foster children. I truly understand the verse in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.”
It isn’t just my parents who foster. It is the whole family. When children come to live with us, they often don’t understand sibling relationships and how to be a good friend. A parent can only teach so much. It is through my love and example and that of my siblings that they can learn the most. I appreciate more what God has given me. When I fuss about doing my laundry and a foster child tells me that he used to wash his one set of clothes in the river, I stop complaining.
I place value in every human life since fostering. I don’t know why bad things happen to some of God’s children, but I know that God has a plan for everyone’s sufferings. Looking back, I realize that Mary brought us closer as a family. We are stronger because of the gift of her life.
We have had children since Mary, but she will always hold a special place in my heart. There is a Jewish story about a woven tapestry. If you are looking at the backside of the tapestry, all that you see is a mess of string, all different colors, in a jumbled mess. But when you are able to see the front of the tapestry, it is the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen—intricate woven designs that make you gasp.
The interpretation of this story is simple. We are looking at the backside of the intricate tapestry that is God’s plan for us. All we see is a chaotic, scrambled mess. God stands in front. He views the magnificent tapestry that He has created. He is the master weaver and is creating something dazzling.
God has a plan for all people. We are all part of the body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone can make an impact. Everyone can choose to take up his cross and follow God’s plan. God will help us carry our cross. As Christ’s followers, we should help our neighbors carry theirs as well. It is not easy, but now I see that it is worth every second.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
© 2018 London Gutekunst. Published with permission.