Foster care and adoption is full of surprises. I don’t care how much you read, research, or study or how much you pour your heart and soul into understanding what it will look like, you will be surprised. Real life is like that. Books are organized and black and white and full of perfectly crafted scenarios. Then real life comes along and just smacks you upside the head a little. That’s just how it goes.
Hubby and I jumped into foster care without much training or research. We really just had the initial training from the state and the call of God to open our home. I guess they took us seriously because before the ink on our foster parent license was even dry, we had 3 little girls in our home. Wow. Nothing quite like real life to open your eyes and make you feel completely inept. I was completely caught off guard and so I did what I usually do: I turned to books, and research, and the wisdom of those who had gone before us. And we started to grow. We started to understand. And we were even more committed to this calling than ever before.
Along the way we’ve had different eye-opening experiences. Some we have felt prepared for. We even patted ourselves on the back a bit. “Good job preparing for that one!” Some caught us completely off guard. Some we just stumbled and stuttered through until we made it to the other side.
But there was one thing that I read about often that I just really hadn’t experienced until recently. One thing that lots of books and blogs and papers make a point to mention: Be prepared for the love you shower on this child to be unappreciated. Un-noticed. Un-reciprocated. Be prepared for your heart to be broken in two by the very object of your love and attention. Be prepared.
I wasn’t. Apparently I view myself as a fairly lovable person. It usually takes very little time and effort for me to endear myself to children. It isn’t hard. I never really had to work at it. Don’t get me wrong. There were little battles. Little hurts. Little hurdles we had to overcome. But overall. Overall, when we continued pouring out love, the love was returned – even if just in the smallest of smiles.
And so, I wasn’t prepared. My head knew what it would look like to foster an older child. My head knew the conflicting emotions and anger they would feel. My head knew that it would take time. Months. Even years before they felt safe enough to express their love to me. My head knew.
But my heart. My heart literally felt ripped in half when I experienced it. When I watched this child that I had poured my heart and soul into for nearly 2 months. This child that I devoted time and energy and research into. This child that I loved more than I could possibly imagine after such a short time. I watched him genuinely hug a person that he had only met a time or two. I watched his arms wrap around and squeeze in a return hug.
My heart broke in an instant and my eyes stung with tears. How I longed to feel those arms returning my hug. I wanted my hugs to be accepted. Wanted. Returned. I wanted him to love me back.
And this precious, precious child. He just wasn’t ready yet.
I understand. I really do. Of all people, of all the adults in his world, I am not a safe person for him to love. The courage that it would take. The vulnerability it would produce. The guilty and torn emotions that would come pouring out. I totally understand. I really do. My head has nodded in agreement and understanding as I read about this in my books. I get it.
I just didn’t know it would hurt so badly. I didn’t know how weary I would suddenly feel. How exposed and vulnerable I would feel. Or how much I would want to run away.
But in that instant. While I was blinking back the tears and desperately trying to re-paste my wavering smile. In that moment I began to see my child in a new light. I began to understand how much HIS heart hurt. How tired HE was of caring for his own safety all these years. How vulnerable and exposed HE felt every single day of this crazy new life he was suddenly expected to live. How much HE wished he could just crawl into bed and hide.
Pain isn’t bad. It hurts like crazy, but it isn’t bad. In fact, I think pain has super-powers. Pain allows me to look through another set of lenses. See another person’s life a little more clearly. To walk a mile in another’s shoes. Pain gives extra-special compassion. And understanding. And experiential knowledge. Pain allows me to know my Savior in a way that joy never can. Pain allows me to see what He did for me on the cross. Pain allows me to give the same way to others.
Pain allows me to know my Savior in a way that joy never can.
And so, right there in that public moment of excruciating pain and desire I knew I had to open my heart up again. Lay it back out there to be stepped on. Ripped apart. Because I know that if Jesus had let pain stop Him from loving me… Well, I would be lost. Lost in a way I see and understand through the eyes of the hurting children brought to my door. Lost completely in irreversible darkness.
Believe me when I say that my hands are shaking as I extend them again. There’s a new awareness as I lay my heart back down. I want to hesitate. To be careful. Wary. Watchful. But I know I cannot. I must love him with free abandon despite any pain. I must, with a thankful heart for the love that has been show to me, I must give my heart again. Because that’s what Jesus did. He loved me. Even when I didn’t love Him back.