How we all talk about foster care matters. As individuals, and collectively. Words can harm or heal. Words can form or tear down. Words can guide or divide.
In a world that is constantly causing us to question, manipulate, and steal our true identities, it’s even more important for us to be grounded in our ever-true identity as sons and daughters of God, but we must also play our part in making that reality known to those around us. In the family God, we all belong. We all have a seat at His table. He extends His desire to adopt us all, as fully accepted, fully desired children of a perfect Father. It’s an open invitation.
I spent 17 years in a home where I was abused, neglected, and broken to pieces. I was silenced by threats and constantly reminded that I was unwanted, unloved, and unworthy. I longed for family. I longed for love. I longed for permanence. I longed for safety. I longed to belong.
During my junior year of high school, I was called into my counselor’s office. A few mandatory reporters in my life had been my mouthpiece, without me knowing, and their concerns had been heard. Through a series of horrific and also miraculous event, I was placed into foster care. For the first time in my life, I was safe from abuse.
Though I was free from the hell of a home I once was entrapped in, I spent years ashamed, in hiding, and in denial about being a foster youth because of the many voices in society and in close proximity to me that caused me to have no other options. That, in addition to the beginning of processing a lifetime of trauma, made for years of struggle as I was in a cycle I didn't yet know I could break. In hindsight, I see how my healing process could've started earlier if I would've had a truth-filled, redemptive view of my identity, exactly where I was at.
I aged out of foster care after being in the system for 5 years. At the age of 26, I was adopted by the only two people I could imagine ever being my parents at our local courthouse that historically served as an orphanage. They entered my life when I was 19, and patiently walked with me through the highs and the lows. They sat with me as I cried many tears of hurt, pain, and grief. They were steadfast in their ways of loving me in and through it all. They supported me, cheered me on, and guided me. They clapped as I walked across the stage at graduation from my university. They taught me to cook, to clean, to dream, and to belong. They still continue to. They played the parts of many. Their best was more than enough for me. I was 26 when I first became a daughter and it was well worth the wait.
It took the love of God through my parents to really bring me to a place of healing where I was able to face my past and not despise or feel chained to it, but to see it as something that God was using, continually. My mom and dad are very intentional with how they talk about my identity, always pointing me to the Father, and constantly reminding me of how God views me. Knowing who I am and whose I am has changed everything for me, though it is a daily process. As a former foster youth, what I needed most was people who would remind me who I really was – and would be there to remind me in moments that I’d forget, be distracted, or not feel deserving of it. I needed people to talk about foster care in the light of a God who uses all things for good.
It took years for me to realize how much of an impact the words of those surrounding me while I was in foster care truly affected me. I needed to know that I wasn't a troubled kid. I needed to know that I wasn't unworthy of love. I needed to know that I wasn't just another person to check off a duty list. I needed to hear that my past wouldn't determine my future. I needed to know that I mattered, that I had a future, that I was free to dream, and that I could still belong.
I needed to know that being in foster care didn't mean that I was disqualified from every good thing. I needed to know that I was still held in the palm of His hands. I needed to know that His heart towards me hadn’t changed, but in fact, that He was working in all things. I needed to know that He’d use it all.
I needed someone to correct the lady who told my friend, her daughter, that I couldn’t be her friend because I was in foster care. I needed someone to tell me that I was a daughter of God, adopted into His family, and though I wasn’t living out that reality yet, it didn’t matter because what He says and how He sees me means far more. I needed mirrors on earth to show me the reflection of the Father.
I know that I wouldn’t be using my life to advocate for the foster care/adoption realms right now if I was still caught up in the identity of an orphan – in reality or mentality. I wouldn’t have felt qualified to help, worthy of being heard, or equipped to have a voice. I would be stuck in shame, behind labels, and silence. But now, because of stepping into being a daughter of God and because of loving parents (and a wonderful village) who continue to remind me of who I am, my mess has become His message. I've surrendered it all to a Father who knows what He's doing. A Father I can trust. And I know now that there is always a seat at the table for me, for you, and for everyone else. We all have a seat.
Whether you’re an adoptive parent, a foster parent, a teacher, an advocate, a friend, a counselor, a social worker, a pastor, or whoever else – the way you speak about foster care matters and the way you speak to foster youth matters. Words have the power to shape and form. Let us be people who intentionally call out the sons and daughters of God in every person we get to love.
And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of full (adoption) acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as He rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as He whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”
ROMANS 8:15-16 (TPT)
We are fully accepted, never orphaned. What a promise and a gift! He wants us just us we are. He will always want us as we are. He fathers the orphan inside of us as we learn what it is to be a son or daughter.
And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming! Take advantage of every opportunity to be a blessing to others.
GALATIANS 6:9-11 (TPT)
For those of you who are discouraged or not seeing the fruit of your words in the lives of those you are loving, don’t lose hope. Every seed sown with love is worth it. I believe that you will live to see the fruit of it!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for loving us. Thank you for seeing us. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that there are people out there like you who are living out His heart for family. Your choice to love is touching generations upon generations.
My name is Annie Marek-Barta. I dwell in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where I work as a freelance graphic designer + photographer. I'm honored to serve as a Child Advocate in my local county. My heart is to advocate for the foster care/adoption realms with the story God is writing for me because I long to see others add seats to their tables as they invite others in! Let's connect on Instagram.com/anniemarekbarta!