** this is a post that I started last year in Uganda, but wanted to finish once I had experienced the “after” of loving in uncertainty, too. As I mention below, this area of foster parenting and loss is new to me and I have only a few friends with whom to compare notes. If you have something to add, please use the little envelope in the top right hand corner to share your thoughts with me. I’d love it!
When you decide to say yes to a child who might only be in your life for a few days, there’s a choice to be made.
How much will I love? Where will I draw the line of investing in this child’s emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing? How much of myself will I allow to be vulnerable so that this vulnerable child can feel safe?
When that baby is placed in your arms – when that child slips her hand into yours – you hope they will feel safe. But how much safety can I expect to exude if my own heart is guarded by so-called wisdom and held back by fear of letting go one day? It’s well known that I advocate a deep heart-giving in these kinds of situations. There are too many days when a particular child is hard to love, nights when someone wakes up just.too.many.times. On those occasions, I need to be fully invested. I need the attachment even more than they do on those days.
[photo by Morgan Perry]
Of course, this kind of commitment – this emotional and spiritual connection – leaves room for a deep sense of something missing when the child moves on. In fact, Rachel and I have found that when we’re honest about missing our Ugandan kiddos, it makes people uncomfortable. It’s as if the intensity or prolonged existence of the pain somehow calls into question the legitimacy of our grief. A few people have said that we should, “get over it already.” But somehow I don’t think it’s inconsistent to say that you miss someone while still rejoicing and profoundly approving of God’s plan for them to move on. Of course, choosing a heart posture that honors God in that grief is necessary. Maybe the rejoicing brings all the more glory to God because of the place of pain from which it comes.
But this post is not a discussion of how much to attach or how much to grieve. It’s about what to do when you attach all the way and then need to let go. I’m learning that there’s a healthy tension of loving fully, guarding my heart, and allowing myself to miss and it can only be maintained if I remember two things: who I am and who God is.
Let me tell you what I mean:
Everyone has their own style of attachment. Mine is to jump in no holds barred and love each child right now believing, at the same time, that they might be in my life forever and they might be gone tomorrow. Those two very real possibilities call out the same level of commitment, intensity, steadfastness, and purpose in me. If this baby in my arms is my daughter, would I want to remember that I held back from her in our first months together? If she’s someone else’s daughter, loving her someone else means I lay down my life for them by caring for this child as if she were my own, ready to humbly return her to Jesus and allow him to place her in that someone else’s arms when the time comes.
There’s no profound revelation behind this heart stance. It’s simply what I’ve learned from the way Jesus loves me. He chose me before I loved him and he loves me whether or not I choose him. He loves me today with the same passion as tomorrow and yesterday, whether I’m walking close to him or turning by back to him in fear. His love is constant, consistent, sure. It’s this love I’m drawing on most days. There are days when I’m drawing from my own leaky bucket and on those days, he scoots in closer than ever and whispers, “Remember where you started this day? Come back.” It’s his consistent love that compels me to joy even when my circumstances (or those of the children I’ve loved) are not what I think they should be.
Trusting God’s goodness for the children I cared for in Uganda is not difficult at all. They are each living in homes where they are adored, where they are learning love, where they will grow up knowing God’s goodness on every level. But I still miss them, because when you dive in wholeheartedly in love towards a child who suddenly moves on, that place in your heart is left empty. The great thing about having empty places that no one understands and no one else can fill is that Jesus moves into them – if we ask him to.
In the case of several of my foster children (from long ago), the someone else who I was standing-in for turned out to be someone I didn’t trust. When it came time for them to go, I didn’t agree. Seven years later, I still don’t know where they are. This is not ideal, obviously, but sometimes it’s reality and my only salvation in a situation like that is to remember that the God who committed them to me for a season has committed Himself to them for a lifetime. That’s the promise.
My perspective of God’s goodness is too limited for me to attempt to tell him what that everlasting covenant should look like today – for me, for my family, for anyone I love. The fact that I don’t understand his timing is not a reflection on God’s goodness. It is a reflection of my struggle to trust his goodness. I can as soon fully understand the goodness of God as a baby can understand why her loving parents allow the doctor to give her a life saving, but painful, surgery. But whether or not I can fully understand him, I have him. And he is good.
The moments of missing are few and far between these days. They’re limited to anniversaries and the times when Rachel and I let ourselves reminisce about the improbabilities and chaos of that year in Uganda. But, when they do surface, my go-to phrase for Jesus is, “OK, I feel lonely here and I miss so-and-so today. What do you want to show me about yourself in this? Where are you for me right now?”
And let me just say, that little series of questions is like a key that unlocks things I didn’t know about Jesus and me. It turns the areas of my life that I don’t understand into spaces where I can go deep with Jesus. It turns fear into the most trusting friendship. It turns shame into the deepest acceptance. It turns loneliness into the sweetest communion with my truest Friend. And I’ll take that over avoiding pain any day.