By Nathan Carr 

Olive had lain in the same ICU bed since she was born — 60 days of various oscillators, breathing machines, and ostomy bags, to patch over one surgery to the next. She still had a month to go. Her poor GI tract was tied up in knots, and the doctors tackled one section at a time. Her saving grace: brilliant surgeons and daily unction (she’s now nine, and a budding Latinist with a wicked sense of humor). 

A couple of months in, my wife and I had noticed the other (many unvisited) children in incubators that lined the pod. Who were they? Why no visitors? I had recently participated in a local leadership forum that detailed some of the ongoing needs of the wider community, foster care being among them. Putting two and two together, my wife and I speculated that these children were in some kind of custodial arrangement with the state. As we walked out of the ICU with our own baby some three months later, we looked at one another in the car and said, “We are coming back for some of these children.” 

Little did I know, my first adoptive son would soon lay in this exact unit fighting his own battle. We wouldn’t meet him for over a year. 

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The process of foster certification was a mess — anything but heroic. Times and dates were always tragically inconvenient. Childcare hardly worth the mess. Each hurdle cleared created three more unknown hurdles in a different direction. Stops and starts everywhere — it took us a year at least to even qualify. By that time, we had lost the initial spark of “changing the world.” We were just tired. 

It was too much work. We had already pulled two of our four biological children through countless surgeries, doctor’s visits, therapies, and CT scans. Good heavens, we were worn slick. 

And then late one night my wife mentioned a new friend who herself was once again in an ER situation with her foster child at the children’s hospital. Little did I know that in walking into that ER to say a brief priestly prayer, I was completing the last hurdle necessary to meeting my future son. Her (now) daughter ended up sharing a surgery wing with a baby boy whose story reached our own ears. He is now my second-grader. 

In the end, we fostered three. Each their own story, and if I were looking you in the eye right now, I’d tell you every detail. Two of them we adopted. The third had a full reunification with his birth mom, which, I might add, took both mothers (foster and birth) every bit of 14 months of working daily together to put it all back together again. In the end, the entire family was baptized into the church, my foster son now my godson, and a daily part of my life. 

So what have my wife and I learned? The stories of these children have been told in sermons, in foster recruitment sessions, before the Oklahoma House of Representatives, over dinner, and before judges. We have logged countless counseling sessions, procedures, surgeries, doctor’s visits, educational aides, and late-night nebulizer hits. We have rearranged bedrooms, purchased bigger cars, added on to the house, learned budgeting for eight, expanded dining room tables, and listened as our older children process this entire thing time and again. Together, the eight of us have hammered through a bit of Scripture, learned a decent amount of prayer book, attended a few too many sanity-straining liturgies, and have lost more sleep that any one person could regain before retirement. 

And it was all worth it. 

But I have a few reflections on our life-as-chaos: 

  • Keep starting over with everything — every pattern that you build into your life will come under the full assault of busy-ness. Prayer time, Bible reading, story time before bed, date nights, time with teenagers (who never want to talk before 11 p.m.). All of it will daily fall apart. Rhythm is often a farce. Keep starting over with everything. When we fostered and adopted, it took our kid count from four to six. It is more than you can handle. Grace is sufficient. Keep starting over. 
  • It will cost you all of your discretionary time. Perhaps a better way to frame this is: your discretionary time becomes the rescue of these children. I have found that trauma creates little ones who need double the amount of time to experience the same amount of soul-formation or discipleship. It’s costly. They need more walks with Dad, more talks with Mom, more hours of reading, more hand-holding, and more long affirmations of value. Yes, I only get to TopGolf once a year with my dad now. But hitting the streets with my two little guys, a couple of sticks, and the goal of finding a new adventure in the neighborhood so that we can regain connection and brain-balance is a solid Saturday. 
  • My boys/godson are the most loving people on the planet. There are only three children in this world who daily hug me and say, “I love you.” 
  • Make the impossible part of family culture. Children, with the overwhelming support of a family, can undertake profoundly difficult things and understand it to be part of the experience of the love of God. Yes, the possibility of temporary placement can be traumatizing for children. So can a cross. Take up your cross. 
  • The prayer book will keep you sane. When you don’t know what to pray anymore, remember that grace is written down. 
  • Raise adults. We have found that overwhelming the family with godly duty (instead of a litany of entertainment options for the bored) helps raise independent kiddos.  
  • Weep with those who weep. This enables you to laugh with those who laugh. Cry with your babies when things are impossible. They’re not wrong to ache, ache, ache over the mess of it all. It will help you laugh harder and dance longer in between. 
  • Priests can do things other than sacraments. I get it. I really do, friends. The Church alone has its litany of needs that will never fully be resolved in this life.  But this has been pure gift to my life as a priest. These kids have taught me things that apart from the experience of fostering, I would have never understood about priesting. 
  • This will change your marriage. It will make it harder. It will make it deeper. It will force you to push into the deepest parts of love as self-sacrifice. You will cling more closely. There will be days when you don’t know each other because you’ve not spoken about anything personal in three weeks. Take trips. At least every six months. No children.  
  • Let your gentleness be known to all. Gentle priest with a backbone of steel — that was the goal and aspiration. It took three little boys to teach me how that works.  
  • Invite the crazy in. First-world sanity rooted in things like a weekly manicured lawn is overrated (this is a confession for me).  
  • The Older Kids — they’re part of the mess. I have ideas for how to keep them engaged since it was “not their idea to do all of this stuff.” Our kids have been rad about it. Downright dogged in their defense and protection of these kids. But it’s hard. Just remember this — where the world gives one gift, Christians should give two. You now have an excuse to party down all the more.  

Father Nathan Carr is the Priest-in-Charge at St. John’s, Oklahoma City, and the Headmaster of a 3-campus Christian school of Classics informed by the liturgical tradition of Anglicanism. 

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Mary Margaret Just
1 month ago

Years ago we brought our home made, adopted and foster children to St. John’s OkC. They are grown now, and some of their children were baptised at St. John’s
A new delight is watching the Racing Carrs run up an down the south yard after church. They are attracting other chilren Thanks be to God

Nathan Carr
1 month ago

Thanks be to God indeed

Victor Lee Austin
1 month ago

Nathan, I am grateful you wrote this. I’m sure I’m not the only one reading it with damp eyes.

Nathan Carr
1 month ago

Thank you, Reverend Canon and dear friend. So glad that all of these above-referenced children have heard you read saints’ lives to them again and again over a messy table with weary parents. You are part of their story. We love you.