The Janzs...All 8 or 9 of them.
I asked Jen what the hardest part of fostering children was. She immediately looked down at her dining room table, fiddling with the fork in her hands. I watched her take a deep breath before she answered. "It's a bittersweet thing when they get to go home. You have learned to love them. You care for them. You're excited that they get to be reunited with mom and dad, but a piece of you will always be with them because you love them."
And even her statement doesn't quite describe the love I have seen Jason and Jen pour into foster children over the last four years. They embrace, however momentarily, children into their homes and treat them like their own sons. I'm sure it doesn't feel seamless to their family, but they make something very hard, something very sensitive, look easy and worthwhile.
Jason is an elder at our church and I've heard him give more sermons than I can count about taking care of the orphan and the widow. He is one of those preachers that truly practices what he preaches. This family is an excellent example of the gospel coming to life, the Kingdom coming to earth.
I don't want to undermine how difficult this process can be, on both the fostering family and the foster children. I can't imagine how hard it is to care for children and assimilate them into your family structure, knowing fully that the ultimate goal is to reunite them with their mother and father. Their four boys have to get used to the ebb and flow of extra family members. They have to sacrifice some of their space and their parents' attention and then mourn the loss of playmates when they leave. These boys are resilient, but it's pretty easy to see where it came from. But they do it...Jason, Jen and the boys. And they believe in it. Jason always says that they believe children are healthiest when they can be raised in a safe and loving home, by their parents. If this is a possibility, they will strive for that every single time.
Fostering children isn't just about giving kids a place to stay, it's about effecting change for everyone. Each member of the biological Janz family learns from every foster child in their house. They form relationships with the birth mom and dad, the grandma, the siblings. Each foster child ingrains in the family a deeper love for Denver and one another. This is a gift they couldn't receive from anyone else.
I was very lucky to photograph them at a special time in their lives this spring, when they had three boys staying with them. They knew their family would only include these guys for a short time, so they wanted to remember it well.
Since then, the younger boys have been reunited with their family and the Janzs feel lucky to still be involved in their lives. They often have foster kids call and visit them, still referring to them as "Momma Jen" and "Daddy Jason."
What this family does is inspiring, but more than that, it's necessary. There are 3,500 children in foster homes in Denver right now. But Denver Human Services is always looking for more families willing to foster. If Denver doesn't have enough families, kids may be moved to a different city, away from familiarity, and sometimes siblings can get separated to different parts of the state. If their story has inspired you to consider foster care, you can find information here, here and here.
Jason and Jen...thank you so much for always being willing to share your life with other people, in real time and through telling your story. I know it isn't always clean and pretty, but your vulnerability allows people to feel safe and ask themselves tough questions. Thank you for sharing this time in your lives with me.
(You may be wondering why there are 9 people in some of these photos. The Janzs also "adopted" Antoinette, a young woman from our church who moved to Denver without knowing anyone. She is an honorary Janz for life.)