Reckless Love

It’s been over four months since we first met this tiny stranger we now call our son. Except, he’s not so tiny anymore, and he’s still not technically our son. But he sure has made a himself at home in our hearts. He is the sweetest, happiest baby– so quick to return your smile with a squinty-eyed, scrunched-nose, toothless, ear-to-ear grin.Isaiah four months

Isaiah’s birthmom signed her parental rights over on February 9, so now it’s just a matter of waiting for the court to pick up the file and sign the paperwork to make us his legal parents. It’s annoying to still have this hanging, but there is really no chance he’s going anywhere. This chubby little man is here to stay.

I haven’t had much time to blog since he came along, but I’ve had so many thoughts mulling in my heart. While in the hospital with Isaiah, I witnessed an adoption-reversal happen right before my eyes. And in just the past 2 months I’ve had two friends lose their babies: one in a tragic car accident that took the lives of baby, mom, and grandma; another in surgery on his tiny little heart.

That baby was born on the same day as Isaiah.

Both babies spent a majority of their lives in the hospital with illness. Both mothers – whether they knew it or not – were a great encouragement to me while I was with Isaiah in the hospital for two weeks.

It just doesn’t seem right… how do you reconcile something like this?

For 10 weeks we loved Isaiah as our own, knowing full well he was not our own and could be taken from us at any moment.

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He won’t be taken away from us now. But going through those 10 weeks and then witnessing these families’ losses… it’s stayed with me that we could just as unexpectedly lose either child at any point…

I suppose such a realization could cripple me with fear. And sometimes it starts to.

But besides making me a sappy basket-case, it’s challenged me to cherish every moment and show grace, even when I’m frustrated.

My children NOT napping, in spite of the tranquility it looks like.

My children NOT napping, in spite of the tranquility it looks like.

Ok, not every moment. I’m still human. And don’t forget we are on the undies-side of potty-training a toddler (which, trust me, is much worse than the pull-ups-side of potty training).

The words of another friend has added to my conviction.

Two months back, when we were waiting to get the call that Isaiah’s birthmom had signed off her rights, I was talking to another adoptive mom about how the call really would change nothing about how we felt about Isaiah. No paperwork or phone call could make us love him any more than we already did. She told me in essence that,

“What I’ve come to realize is that each child I have is an amazing gift from God. But I’m not promised any more days with my biological children than I am with my other children. I just need to love them all unconditionally for however long I have them.”

Whether you realize it or not going into it, parenthood requires reckless love. When you love a child, there are no guarantees against heartbreak.

My natural personality is to keep everything the same. I am happy to read books about risk-taking protagonists. But I myself would rather stay in the safety of what I know – the same job, the same community, the same morning routine.

Please don’t ask me to change my morning routine.

Can I get an “Amen”? Surely I’m not the only one.

Risks are not attractive to me. Change is never a welcome event. Hardship, even less so.

Remember the emotional basket-case thing? Yeah, that’s me. I cry even when the team I can’t stand gets eliminated on Amazing Race. I’m fairly confident that no one has ever said of me, “She’s so strong.”

In fact, I am so confident in my weakness that I’ve already decided to home-school both kids all the way through college. I’ve made Elise promise never to date because she’s not leaving home nor is she ever even riding in a car with a boy. And I’ve even designed the “Mom” tattoo that Isaiah will be permitted to get when he turns 16, just so the ladies know he is not available.

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But my instinct to shelter them is really mostly about sheltering me.

Children are worth the risks. Worth the heart-ache. Worth the heartbreak.

So when the time comes that we can consider growing our family again, I inwardly tremble at the thought of fostering. So much about it hits at the very core of my fears. Getting attached, giving them back to a bad situation, having no control, the possible impact on my kids…

But ultimately, I also want my children to learn radical, reckless love themselves over cozy entitlement and constant leisure.

Growing up, my parents demonstrated this for me. They didn’t “foster” per-say… But for several years, we lived with my grandparents while my mom helped with their care. Then years later my uncle moved in with my family for 4-5 years until he passed in 2007. They’ve also opened their home up for months at a time to my paternal grandpa and an intern at my mom’s PT clinic.

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My mom and my Uncle “Grand-brother” Greg

 Although I didn’t always love sharing my house, but I am so thankful that it gave me such a close relationship with these family members. I also witnessed such extreme compassion and hospitality and saw the impact it had. I honestly don’t know that my grandparents or my uncle would ever have come to know the Lord if it weren’t for my parents. That, in itself, is… huge.

And really, having long-term “guests” actually made the time we had as a nuclear family something we looked forward to. Not typical of families with teenagers.

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Obviously these are just words right now. But it stands what I said earlier:

Children are worth the risks. Worth the heart-ache. Worth the heartbreak…

Whether that means unconditionally loving on your own children through potty-training, threenager-hood, junior-high, and some season of rebellion or despondency; or loving on another child that’s never known unconditional love.

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Adoption Month Musings Part 1

Here it is, November 12th already, and I can finally sit down and reflect on it being National Adoption Month.

My thoughts ping and pong in all different directions as I ponder if this will be the only post I manage to make time for in November. But if nothing else, I want to share two predominate things that have impacted me recently.

The first came unexpectedly one day after “racing” Elise back to the house from the mailbox. We sat down to flip through the mail and she asked me to read her the Bethany Christian Services Magazine. Instead of reading it to her, I turned to the pages of the kids who are waiting to be adopted. I told her how they don’t have Mamas and Daddies and how we should pray for these kids. After that, she memorized every kid’s name by quizzing me over and over on every picture.

When we got home from Daycare the next day, she opened the magazine up again and named off all the kids.  And then she asked me if they have Mommies and Daddies yet.

If that doesn’t break your heart…

On one hand, adopting a child from Foster Care is not a venture to be taken lightly. I want that point to be clear.

But on the other hand, perhaps we – the church – need to make a little more of an effort in finding homes for these children and supporting those families willing to do so. I know some churches do a great job at this already. But even one of the largest churches in our area offers no special assistance or programs for foster or adoptive families. That seems crazy to me.

Creating programming that appeals to the masses seems like a good idea. That’s how business strategies work, right? Appeal to the largest population using the leanest resources. But how can we call ourselves “the body of Christ” if we are not intentional about reaching out to those in the margins? Isn’t that what Christ did again and again? Broke away from the crowd to give special attention to marginalized individuals who needed Him most?

These children may not seem like our responsibility because they are not a part of our congregations.

They are not a part of our congregations Yet.

Top number: Foster children waiting to be adopted Bottom number: Number of churches

Top number: foster children waiting to be adopted
Bottom number: Number of churches

But can we make room for them? If 1 family out of every 3 churches in Michigan chose to adopt from foster care, what a huge difference we could make! (And not to say church-goers are the only ones who should adopt from foster care – but if we claim to be Christians, we are implored to “Take up the cause of the fatherless.” Isaiah 1:1.7.

Can we make more of an effort to share their stories and implore people to consider if they might be open to making room for a child in their homes? Can we support families through networking and respite care and material services and counseling? I’m sure there are even more needs I’m not aware of yet.

I could never tell anyone that adopting from foster care is something they should do. I don’t know what particular calling God has put on their family. But it is crazy to think of the number of children who don’t.have.parents.

Staggering. Sobering.

And after seeing Elise show so much interest in these children, it’s made me realize how important it is to teach your kids about real-life orphans. To help them grow compassionate hearts instead of self-pitying little souls. And not in an angry, “There are starving children in Africa who would be glad to clean your plate for you.” But in a “What do you think we should do to help kids who don’t have families?” And then involve our children in whatever activity we can think of – whether it’s praying for them, buying material supplies for a home for foster children, donating, etc…

(All that is to say, our daughter is still self-pitying. Aren’t we all? 😉 But the more we focus outward, the easier it is to forget why we thought our busy schedules and materialistic woes were ever so important to us.)

Anyway, this is what has been speaking to me lately. I wanted to share the other thought with you also, but I’m not quite sure how to segue into it without making this post extraordinarily long. 🙂

I’ll just plan on posting Part 2 next week.

 

The Father’s Love

Six months or so ago, Tyler and I were driving and he was sharing about his coworkers and their experience adopting an 8 year old girl who has suffered many traumas in her short life. Understandably, she has many emotional and behavioral struggles that stem from broken promises, extorted trust, and constant changes of her environment and her caregivers. He talked about her story and some of the struggles they are having even now to break through her walls and show her that their love is unconditional and unchanging. That she is valued and cared for and all the tumultuous shifting and abuse she experienced before is now behind her. She is safe. She can heal.

But it’s not simple. For families adopting older children or fostering children with a “complicated” (to put it slightly) past, they are faced with a huge risk: To love without restraint, knowing full-well their hearts may be broken in the process — whether from a child who is distant and rebellious or from the state reunifying their foster child with neglectful or abusive parents.

Yet as Tyler told me this story, I could hear the emotion in his voice. Not emotion like my voice shows emotion. Good grief, I get choked up watching Top Chef. It was deep compassion and… conviction? I let his words sink in for a minute.

“Tyler, are you… are you feeling like someday you might want to foster? Or adopt from foster care?”

He sighed a heavy sigh. He’s the kind of person that wants his words to be sincere – not spoken out of fleeting emotion. I could tell this wasn’t the first time he had thought about it.

“Maybe? I don’t know… not right now, Elise is too young. But maybe someday, a ways on down the road.”

Tears (see what I mean?) welled up in my eyes. That God would lay this on his heart, even before mine was stunning to me. I am the emotional one. I am the one to announce my wild aspirations to him. I am the one that wants more than the standard 2.5 children. It was an emotion and a conviction that could only come from the Father.

Fast forward to 4 weeks ago. I was subbing in the church nursery and ended up working with a woman who is a foster care-giver. Her story is heartbreaking… and hope-filling at the same time. To love a child as they deserve to be loved — knowing full-well that you cannot dictate their future– that is a vulnerable thing to do. But she told me this week that this vulnerability is a glimpse of the Father’s love. God loves us… knowing His heart will be broken.

That struck me. All my insecurities and anxieties about our adoption… they are nothing when compared to the anguish God has experienced.

Our vulnerability right now is small compared to what it could be if we foster someday. But even with domestic adoption, there is still always a chance for a birthmom to have a “change of heart.” I am learning that when God calls us to walk through heartache, He offers us a deeper relationship with Him. Not because our wounds have earned it for us. Because He wants to use our pain to understand the pain He feels and the love that outweighs every heartache and makes every vulnerability worthwhile.

Talking about God’s love is one thing. We are quickly desensitized to repetitive anecdotes and Christian cliches.

Experiencing God’s love is quite another. To walk with someone that understands your grief is invaluable. And no matter the grief… God has felt it too. He is more than a support system. He is the Source of All Comfort and the Father of love.

We don’t know what is in store for our future. Maybe our family will grow as a seamless unit with no pain or loss or trauma. But regardless of God’s plans, He will open our hearts to love without caution, and will carry us through to heal whatever brokenness we may face.