I admit, there are those times when it is really hard for me to forgive.
As a foster and adoptive parent of 14 years, and of over 50 children, I have seen such horrible atrocities committed against the children who come to live in my home.
Maddie was four years old when she came to live with us. Maddie’s grandfather had been raping her for quite some time, while Maddie’s mother did little or nothing to defend her daughter against the constant sexual abuse and horrors. When Maddie joined our family, she had been abandoned for several days and was in a state of severe malnutrition. Even more tragic, the little four years old could not speak a single word, not one. Instead, the traumatized little child could only communicate through pointing at objects and grunting.
Nine months later, I found myself in court, advocating for little Maddie, and speaking on her behalf as her foster father. Our daughter from foster care had come so far in such a short time and had become a much-loved member of our family. Though Maddie’s stay in our home was one filled with many challenges, she had become a valued member of our family. She was our daughter, and we loved her. There was no difference between our biological children and Maddie; no labels. All were loved the same.
While I was waiting in the courthouse lobby, Maddie’s caseworker came over and wanted to introduce me to Maddie’s biological family members, including her mother and her grandfather. Very quickly, a feeling of anger, resentment, and even judgment towards them swelled within me and threatened to overtake me. I was angry. I was angry at the grandfather for the rape of his granddaughter, little Maddie. I was angry at the mother for not protecting her own child and allowing the atrocities to continue in her own home. My anger also translated into judgment towards these two. I felt justified in my feelings. When I met the family, they acted in a hostile fashion towards me. I was prepared for this, as many time, foster parents are considered “the bad guys” to biological family members of children placed in foster care. This may stem due to unresolved guilt from the family member, refusing to accept the poor choices they made to have the child placed into care or other inner emotional battles they are dealing with.
Yet, my own anger was holding me back, and holding little Maddie back, as well. My anger and resentment towards Maddie’s parents sent a negative message to this little girl about judgment, love, and forgiveness. It was also poisoning myself, and causing me undue stress and anxiety.
I needed to release these feelings. I needed to show Maddie the importance of unconditional love to others. I needed to forgive.
Love and forgiveness are two actions that are intertwined, and cannot be separated. If we truly love others, then we need to forgive, as well. Without forgiveness, there is no love. When I was angry towards Maddie’s family members, I was not showing her the gift of love. Instead, my stomach was in knots, and I was one tense parent. I was shackled by my own inability to forgive someone, a prisoner to a debilitating emotion. However, when I did forgive those who had harmed Maddie in a horrific manner, it felt like a weight was taken off my own shoulders. One of the amazing things about the act of forgiving others is that it allows us better use our energies towards something that is more constructive, more positive. Forgiveness frees us from the forces of hate and evil, and instead allows us to draw closer to others, and gives us more strength to others in need. When we forgive the actions of our foster child’s birth parents, not only are we showing love to them, and empowering ourselves, we are also honoring our foster children. I often have to remind myself that these children living in my home and as a family member, despite the many forms of abuse they have been subjected to, still love their mommies and their daddies.
Maddie has since moved from our home and is living in another foster home, closer to her family. For myself, I grieve the loss of this young girl in my life, as I miss her. I pray she is doing well, and that she is safe. I also continue to work within myself to forgive them for the brutal actions they committed against this small child, this innocent child.
If I can’t forgive those who harmed them for myself, I need to be able to do it for the children. I need to do it for Maddie.
About Dr. John DeGarmo
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several books, including the brand new book Faith and Foster Care: How We Impact God’s Kingdom, and the foster care children’s book A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Parent Factors with Dr. John. He can be contacted at [email protected], through his Facebook page, on Twitter or at his website.