Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What Love Can't Do

Valentine's Day is a holiday that doesn't rank very high in my list of "things in which I place value." However, five-year-old Big Brother A has been talking about it a lot because of school. He has been placing a lot of very thinly veiled hints that I must do something special for him to prove my love.

Um, I'm feeding you and then washing these.

I'm washing, folding and putting away these.

And I'm probably picking up these, too, because I'll need you to rest more than I'll need you to put these away.

That's how I'm proving my love.

But seriously. That's not my point.

I love kids. I have always loved working with kids. People told me I was good at it when I was still a tween helping out with Vacation Bible School. I attach to them quickly, and when their lives look really hard, part of me always wants to just take them home and love all of the bad things away.

So it's not super surprising that I found myself here as a foster mom.

I always knew in my head that I couldn't just hug the bad things away, but love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres (that's from the famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians), so my heart always wanted to try anyway. It kind of worked for a while with my biological babies, you know. My two biological children have a sense of safety automatically when they're in my arms. I started as their house, their food source, their comfort. I was one of the two who'd always answer every cry in those important first weeks. They grow up, of course, and bonding grows bigger and tougher, but in the beginning, hugs and kisses really did seem to make all the bad things go away.

Not so with foster care. We had to fight for the bonding. We had to keep giving hugs and kisses to babies who pushed away, stiffened, and cried louder, hoping that one day it would click. It did click for Baby S. He went from being our biggest crier and our most difficult to comfort, to being our biggest smiler and the one most longing for hugs and kisses.

We fought hard to earn his trust. And then he was taken away. And he learned that we aren't trustworthy.

And my oldest learned that people we love go away and that grown ups sometimes don't take care of their children.

My love wasn't enough to protect my children. I could not shelter them from these awful things.

Now we have Baby S back, but we can't go back to the days when snuggles make it all go away. We can't take away his memories of being sent away and not being brought back. We can't undo all of those long months of not being properly nurtured. We can't magically catch him up verbally, socially, emotionally, physically, mentally.

We cannot protect him.

Every part of me longs to be the band-aid that makes his life all better. I want to be the band-aid for Big Brother A, too, to fix the instability and frustration he experiences as he struggles through loving his brother but also feeling (justifiably) that life as a five-year-old was probably better before Baby S came back. I want to be the band-aid that tells my baby girl that she can trust this new one and that he won't ever squash her. But I can't be those things for my children.

All of the love in me wants to not just protect, but shield. And I cannot.

Josh and I chose to pursue foster care with full knowledge that it would change our biological children. We knew that there would be lost innocence at an early age. We weighed the costs and made a decision. I still stand by that decision. But we are not unaware of the baggage we are fixing on our family.

We pray that these difficult things would make our children's love for Jesus stronger in the long run. But sometimes, it's hard not to feel like a failure as a parent. My love can't fix it.

My love can't even fix me. My love for my children doesn't take away my selfishness. I still want to go out with my husband for a long meal without the kids; but when I do, can I admit something? I'm ready to turn around and go back out for another date as soon as I'm home. Life is really hard, and love is costly, and sometimes I have love left but not the energy to use it right. Sometimes I don't respond to my husband or Big Brother A in conversation because I'm selfish and I'm focused on loving me when I'm tired and frustrated.

My love isn't going to cure our situation. It doesn't guarantee a recovery for Baby S. It doesn't mean he'll definitely get to stay here. It doesn't make my heart stop being selfish. It doesn't take away the baggage of exposure to hard things for my two bio kids. It doesn't catch me up on laundry or dishes, either.

My love, although all I have, starts to feel so inadequate.

But my love is just a picture. It's an imperfect picture of the love of someone who isn't selfish, and therefore is able to actually love fully. It's a shadow of the beautiful love of Jesus, who gave everything for me. I mean, everything. Not a lot of hours of sleep, or changing diapers, or a difficult labor, or tough love to a biological parent who's pushing away. EVERYTHING. His entire life. His fame. His followers. Heaven itself.

Only to get it all back and then offer it to me, even though I wasn't his yet. He loved me before I loved him, and he loves me fully even though I love him with so much brokenness.

I can't fix the difficult things my children experience. I can't be their band-aid. I can't shield them, on Valentine's Day or any other day of the year, from the hard fact that love is painful. I can't guarantee that being back will take away the damage of the ten months away for Baby S. I can't protect him from the lingering doubts that we'll leave again. I can't protect me from the lingering doubts that he might leave again, either.

But I can be the person who wades through this mess with my children. I can offer what protection my shadow of love can give, while prayerfully pointing them to the real thing. The love of Jesus won't shield them from bad things, either, but he can protect what matters most - their hearts.

I can pray, today and every day, that glimpses of Jesus in me would help steer the hearts of my babies toward Jesus. And I can keep loving with my whole heart because Jesus loves me - first, still, and always.

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