Search the web for former fosters handing out advice, and you will probably find 9 sites talking about God’s awesome plan for foster children to every 1 site that is simply telling you the truth about their life and what the future holds for 99% of us.
So, if you are a former foster, or about to “age-out” of foster care, according to most former foster advice sites, there are two paths ahead of you (and only two):
And in prison you will find God, so it’s God by capitulation and you should just go ahead and get it over with.
There were two final catalysts for starting this project. The first was reading “Orphans of the Living” by Jennifer Toth last year. The second was stumbling across the blog of a 20 something former foster who goes by “LT,” short for Looney Tunes.
In “Orphans of the Living,” Toth provides a detailed and HONEST look at the lives of 4 foster children (I think the number was 4). In one of those stories a foster child explains to Toth that the more “God” (TM) in a foster home, the worse the experience will be for the child.
I’m not trying to take God away from anyone. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted.
What I do want every single foster child and former foster child to know is that there are not just two paths ahead of you (prison or God).
This perception comes from the media and from the few survivors who speak out about their experiences – 90% of former fosters do not want to talk about their lives in foster care.
The media harps on the prison aspect, and the few survivors who are able to appear normal in life tend to credit God with all of their success probably because they believe it and maybe because, as in the Hunger Games, you earn points with the organizations that fund your cause.
As a child, I knew religion pretty well. Or, I knew “Southern Baptist” very well. As far as I was concerned, anything outside of Southern Baptist wasn’t religion. Everyone I knew just called that stuff “Satan.”
My biological mother, around the time I was 3 or 4, became deeply concerned for the souls of me and my brother. I can’t blame her. The situation wasn’t great, and her mother, my grandmother, was pretty big into the Bible thumping.
Anyway, my mother decided that my brother and I needed to be saved. So, around age 4, we had a family bedside conversion (not the last one to be sure). Of course you may wonder why such a devout mother would eventually loose her children to the nightmare that is the foster system if God is in control. Don’t think too long on that.
Of the seven foster homes in my life, each home had their own unique view on religion. Homes one through four were Southern Baptist, as was number six. Yet each one was unique.
Home number four lasted for seven years. Some of that time was spent in a small town church, where the preacher would sometimes stand on the pews and screech or run down the isle screaming and crying. Church was so stressful for me that I would often develop painful gas which seemed to always come out during service.
Home number six was also Southern Baptist, but it didn’t really turn out the way I had expected for lots of reasons. One, was the requirement of reading the Bible each night, no exceptions. One chapter of a book within the Bible each night, wether that chapter was 100 verses or 3. I understand now why people love the book of Psalms – short chapters.
Greg (not the foster father’s real name), was a single foster parent who had made it his mission in life to help troubled boys and boys without homes or fathers. He considered this to be God’s calling for him. He had worked with several kids before me, but I was the first actual foster child in his care. The others were just sort of god-children, whose parents had consented to his help and involvement in the affairs of their child.
There are positive things I can say about Greg. Not trying to make him look bad here. And some rather odd things too, which I won’t go into right now. He was not abusive, just strange. The Bible requirement was “the” requirement and he was mostly pleasant about it.
The Bible reading became really old, really quick. It didn’t matter the time of night, a chapter had to be read. Greg was an executive at a regional bank and sometimes had late meetings or events. If he came home after 10 PM, he would knock on my door and ask “Derrick, do you want to read tonight or tomorrow morning?” Yeah!! Just what every 14 year old boy wants – a choice of when to read the bible. Later, we negotiated the option of just doubling up the next night if a night was missed – but it was rarely missed.
I think, in Greg’s eyes this was somehow supposed to help me, or better me, or something. I still don’t know what people think they are accomplishing by forcing children and teens to read the bible every night, it usually backfires.
What the nightly Bible readings really did, was cause me to actually learn more about the Bible years later as an actual thinking adult. As in, where in hell did this thing come from and who in hell thinks this makes any sense?
If you’re curious about how the Bible actually came to be, start searching on the interwebs – it’s pretty easy. Let’s just say a lot of politics were involved and not so much “divine inspiration” from God.
Anyhow, I wanted to explain a little bit about my religious background and I’ve done that, so now I can try to get to the point.
So, here goes:
When you age out of foster care, you might think God has a plan for you. Or, that by virtue of surviving, you are special and the hardest part is over – your specialness will take it from here.
Well, I have some good news and some bad news.
Good news: You are special. You truly are. You are stronger than you think, you are smarter than you think. And eventually you will realize that you possess some analytic abilities that are far beyond the average person. But you are probably going to hurt a lot more before you come to that realization. Your life is going to be a process.
Bad news: God doesn’t have a plan for you. She doesn’t. The universe doesn’t. There just isn’t anything like that. This isn’t going to win me points with the people I am going to eventually need for my cause, but it’s the truth.
I do truly understand that believing that God has a plan for you might be one of the few things that keeps you going. And if that is the case, then please just close this page and forget this. I don’t want to take that from you.
But if you have the strength to read, to listen, to think – and you do have that strength – then I want to help you empower yourself.
(BTW, a good resource for you to read on a regular basis is one of my favorite blogs – “Raising Kids Without Religion.” It’s thoughtful, analytical and honest. It might help you make sense of things and deal with your own questions about religion.)
As an adult, around age 25 or 26, I started to think about religion again. I had decided for years to stay away from religion in general. But if anyone asked, of course I still believed there was a God and all that. But having some time to think to myself, I decided I would visit churches – Episcopal, Christian Scientists, Catholic and so on. And I decided that I would read the Bible again. I had already read the entire thing before, so why not?
What I realized is that there was never a point in my childhood where I questioned what I was told by adults. I never, not once, as a child or teenager, stopped to actually think about what I thought I believed. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably didn’t either. And I realized that it wasn’t religion that gave me the strength to stay focused on the future.
What gave me strength to get though my early life was not God. It was me. And what has guided you through your life and your tragedy, is you.
As a foster adult, the struggle for your rational mind is just beginning. And, you need you more than ever.
As a child you may have thought that you did something to deserve the abuse. Or, like me, maybe you knew you didn’t do anything wrong, but the adult in charge explained why you still deserved to be punished. Again, your fault. You probably came to accept that because you couldn’t think of a better reason.
Believing that you did something to deserve God’s wrath or punishment as an adult, is no better than believing that you did something to deserve the hell that was foster care as a child. This kind of thinking will keep you in a cycle of abuse and failure.
Believing that God has a plan for you can help you get through some tough things and that’s not just OK, it’s perfectly normal. Do what you need to do. Keep your beliefs as long as you need, or your entire life.
But now that you made it out, and you’re ready to take control of your life, take a cue from the Bible itself: I Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
As a child, I thought there was a God in the sky looking down on me. Keeping me dry and clothed. And then beating me for it. Keeping me off the streets but then making fun of me at the lunch table as payment for his kindness. I thought I deserved it. I basked in the idea that this sickness was his plan and like Rambo, I would emerge victorious at age 18, immediately be recognized as special and everything would be perfect.
As a man, I put away childish thoughts and realized that only I have the power to control my life. Me. Not you. Not a sky God. Me.
As if this post hasn’t gone on long enough, I’d like to throw one more thing out that I see on the web. And that is the idea that so many foster parents have, that you were part of God’s plan for – their – life.
I truly admire most foster parents, especially the parents I finally found at the end of my foster care experience. It’s not easy to be a foster parent. But what I really hate to hear is something along the lines of “God gave/brought you to us.”
Every time I ever heard that as a child, I bristled. It never felt good to hear that. It was like shaming my biological parents every time it was spoken, as if they weren’t shamed enough. It’s the idea that as a foster child, you were taken from your biological family, placed into a terrible situation, suffered great emotional and mental trauma, all so that God could award you as a prize to someone whom he favored more than he favored your actual parents. If that was God’s plan, why the drama? Just award you to the right family in the first place.
The family I have today never once implied that they were better or more righteous than my own biological parents. They never spoke of such things. They never spoke ill of my biological family. They never tried to wash away past pains with future rewards from God. They simply let me be. Space, time, openness and love. No requirements to repay. No expectations. They provided a home, a shoulder and an ear when needed. My failings were my own. My successes were my own. And in the process, I learned that I was my own savior.
Keep your faith, keep your religion, but be your own savior.