When there is nothing left to give...

We have been parents to 4 biological children, two of whom had life-threatening vascular anomalies causing strokes, brain disease, brain surgery, hearing-bone implants, facial reconstructive surgeries -- just to name a few.  We have been foster parents for years.  This has included being parents to a homeless teen who wasn't "in the system"; medically fragile preemie twins one of whom had brain damage; a set of siblings in and out of foster care 3 times; teenage siblings who have seen every aspect of foster care over a 5 year period; a "one-night" emergency removed from an abusive foster home who turned into a placement for several months; numerous "one-nights" so they wouldn't sleep in agency office; and a medically fragile newborn we've watched grow up.  We've seen kids go home to biological parents, get adopted by kinship, go through the roller coaster of having parental rights terminated only to be overturned by the court of appeals, moved for reasons that are hard to understand, and more.  After all of these experiences and years of dealing with trauma, I started to think that I can pretty much handle anything.  As though it was my ability and determination that brought me through all of these difficult situations.  I think I really fooled myself into thinking that I am just better suited to handle stress, multi-tasking, heartache, and pain than others.  

And then I suddenly get to a point where there is nothing left.  The trauma, the behaviors, the roller coaster of emotions, the questions of parenting and the effect on biological children, the exhaustion, the worry, the uncertainty of the future for these kids you can't protect, the great need of love and grace by everyone around you while they reject you at the same time, the inability to "fix" brokenness.  It is just too much and there is nothing left in me to give.  That is where I end up when I begin to think for even a second that I am somehow capable or qualified for this life as a foster parent.  There is nothing left.  I'm empty. I'm done.  

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:28-31.   

When there is nothing left in me, I am so encouraged by these verses in Isaiah for so many reasons.  First of all, I love the sarcasm of the question, "Do you not know?"  Of course I know that it is God who is the Creator of all things and sustainer of all things!  I just need to trust in that, regardless of the seemingly hopeless situations in my home sometimes.  Second, these verses remind me that it is God alone who gives strength.  "He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom."  He is the source of all strength and power - not me! So when there is nothing left to give, it's because I never had it in the first place!  Only when I am trusting in God as the source of strength and understanding can I love and serve these beautiful, hurting children as He needs me to.  Third, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength."  Do you know the beauty of that promise?  The word "renew" literally means "exchange," as in getting a new garment.  So God isn't promising just to fill up my tired, overwhelmed spirit with a little bit more strength like he's patching an old worn-out shirt.  He promises to actually exchange my worn out, overwhelmed tattered strength with His perfect, brand new, endless strength! How comforting to know that we all "grow tired and weary," but it is what we do with that feeling that matters. I'm not a failure as a foster mom, wife, employee, pastor's wife, etc. if I get tired and weary! We all get that way.  But what will I do when I'm at that point and there is nothing left to give? That is what matters. If we "hope in the Lord" God promises that our strength will be renewed, and we will not grow weary or faint.  He promises that we can keep doing the work that He has called us to.  I just have to look to Him and trust in His understanding.  I need to put on the new garment of strength He's offering me every day.  

It's a joy to serve in this challenging, amazing, beautiful life of foster care with so many of you.  I pray you will find the strength and hope offered in these verses as well.  I pray your strength will daily be renewed.  

Sarah Oberndorfer