We were in our early twenties and convinced that by fostering children we could change the world one child at a time. We signed up for training classes, completed our home study, and said yes to bringing children into our home. Although we thought we knew what we had signed up for, the hard reality of foster care and adoption was not at all like we anticipated. From the beginning, our church family encouraged and supported our decision to care for vulnerable children. They prayed for us, brought us meals, and celebrated as our family grew. Over the past twelve years, our family has dramatically changed as we adapted to meet the complex needs of our children we have brought home from hard places.
In Genesis 16, we find the story of a woman from a hard place. Hagar was a servant of Sarai, the wife of Abram, whom God had promised to make into a great nation through his descendants. Although Sarai and Abram desperately wanted a child, they struggled with years of infertility. In her desperation, Sarai looked at Hagar and saw an opportunity to fulfill her longing to become a mother. She used Hagar to carry a child from her husband with the intent to raise him as her own. As soon as Hagar became pregnant; however, the power dynamic shifted. Hagar started to treat Sarai with contempt, so Sarai retaliated, which drove Hagar to flee into the desert to escape mistreatment.
The desert: a lonely, dangerous wasteland. Not much grows in the desert; and even less thrives. It’s a place of both unbearable heat and bitter cold. For the soul, the desert is a place of lonely suffering. In the desert, we thirst and hunger, struggle to survive, and risk withering away. Can you appreciate the desperate place Hagar is in? She would rather succumb to the desert than to live another day with Sarai. What a discouraging space for her! But that’s usually true of the desert, isn’t it?
All messed up in her feelings, exhausted, worn, miserable, wondering whether she would survive is where God found her. Appearing like an angel, the LORD found Hagar in the desert and instructed her to go back to Sarai. He didn't promise an end to her suffering, but he did offer hope. Although Sarai would continue to mistreat her and her son would grow up wild, she now had a promise. She wasn’t going to die, instead she would have generations of descendants. Instead of being alone, God would surround her with love and support.
The desert place wasn’t a death sentence, it was life changing! "She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, 'You're the God who sees me! Yes! HE saw me; and then I saw him!" (Genesis 16:13 The Message Paraphrase) What Hagar found remarkable about this brief interaction with God was that He saw her. He saw her mistreatment. He saw her poor choices. He saw her waning hope as she sat alone in the desert. He saw her.
El-Roi (pronounced El Raw-ee) means the God who sees me. There is something incredibly healing and powerful about being seen. If you’ve ever been in a desert place, you know how therapeutic it is to simply be seen. When we’re in that desolate place, being seen is everything. We often get asked, “What can we do to support foster families?” This is it.
See us. See us in the midst of our desert. When I’m on day 9,000 of emotional meltdowns from my wounded children, I need you to see me. When I’m struggling to find the hope that healing will ever come for my kids, I need you to see me. When I’ve given everything I can, and it’s still not enough, I need you to see me. When I’m tired and worn and stressed and regretting saying ‘yes’ to this life, I just need you to see me.
Sometimes seeing me is bringing a meal or sending the pizza delivery driver to my front door. Sometimes seeing me is bringing clothes and necessities for my new placement. Sometimes seeing me is mowing my lawn or changing the oil in my Creeper Van or stopping by to fold a basket of laundry. Sometimes seeing me is sending a text to say, “I’ve missed seeing you at church the past two weeks, but the work you’re doing at home is important. Just know that you’re loved and I’m holding space for you.” It's really not about what you offer.
It's about the connection and community, because those are scarce in the desert.
Being seen may be one of the most powerful things we can experience as humans. In fact, it’s the message of the Gospel- God seeing us in the midst of our desert- broken, tattered, worn, desperate, lost. He saw us and sent the Rescue. When you see me, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. When you see me, I recall that this is the work that God has called me to. When you see me, I feel hope; all is not lost!
When you see me, you live the Gospel to me.
My kids have each spent an unacceptable portion of their life being overlooked and unseen. Abuse, neglect, trauma, grief, loss, injustice, and a broken system have all brought them to a desert place. They, like Hagar, know how it feels to be written off and cast aside. Unseen. But not anymore! I want my kids to know ‘The God who sees me.’ In the midst of their desert, I want them to experience El Roi.
Know this: when you see us, our family sees Him, and that changes everything.