Hearing a story about foster care isn’t a rare thing when living here in Southern California. Between people in our immediate family choosing to become foster parents, to members of our church jumping in to do respite care… the system and extreme need was no unknown thing to me and my husband. When we said yes to foster care, we knew exactly what the journey would likely entail. We had seen enough to know that adoption within foster care was not supposed to be the goal; that it’s not the first-case scenario, but rather a last resort. Foster care is no small thing to ask of someone’s heart – to love knowing that it may not be forever, to love deeply and yet hold them loosely. This love feels like it goes against absolutely everything we were told love is, because our hope is in the “forever” part. Family forever, marriage forever, friendship forever.
How do you compartmentalize a temporary love?
You don’t. You choose love, you choose loss, you choose them, every single day. Whether they will be yours forever or just until tomorrow, you adopt them in your heart for good, because that’s the only love that lasts, the forever kind of love. The love that wrecks you at the thought of them leaving, the love that causes you to re-work your entire schedule for them, your entire life for them. The kind of love that not only unconditionally loves them, but their entire story, their past, their present, and their future. This is foster care. This is where my family landed in our hearts as we prepared for our new girl to arrive. This was the love that felt real to us.
We were already called “parents” and we already knew the love we were able to hold for a child, but what we didn’t know was the extravagant ability our hearts had to grow for a child we did not know. A child that wasn’t ours from the beginning of life, but needed love, a love that we were chosen for. A love that we quickly found out wasn’t perfect, but was present. It wasn’t exact, but it was enough, because it was daily. It wasn’t supposed to be, but it was. We found our hearts able to navigate all of the complexities of temporary, yet forever.
We call her Sister. She came to us at two years old, standing at the front door, grinning from ear to ear. She had a crazy head of white-blonde hair and we had no idea that it was a prediction of her personality. That night, all of the kids curled up in bed, and I saw new eyes staring at me. There was a new smell in our home, with new food requests and temper tantrums, but in those eyes I saw a tiny little girl so afraid, so angry, so broken… that it broke me. In that moment I felt something for someone I didn’t even know, and it was in that moment I chose her. Not because of a feeling, not because she was promised to me or because it was safe… but because in that moment, I saw for the first time the true identity of adoption: choosing. I chose her in my heart that night. Maybe it wasn’t a forever, but it was a daily choosing until told otherwise.
As a foster parent, you come to a crossroads. Maybe it’s the first night, like for myself, and maybe it’s within the first month, but at some point you have to decide whether or not you will choose this child over it all. Over your schedule, over your feelings, over your own hurt, over fear and opinion.
Two years with growth and many triumphs, hearings, and tears later, we heard the words in court that meant forever. To many, that would mean a party with balloons and cake, but because we chose her story so many years before, we knew this day of adoption had many meanings, some of loss and some of new beginnings.
It wasn’t that day where we signed our names and raised our right hands that we pledged our forever love, that happened years before that. That very first night where we pledged to choose her daily, no matter what. It wasn’t her name change that made her ours, it was our heart change. It wasn’t the promise of forever that made us choose her, it was the daily choice of love.
In turn, foster care gifted us with a new love. Foster care enabled us to choose a love outside of ourselves, a love that didn’t make sense… yet we were changed, our love changed. What greater love is there? Foster care and my daughter have taught us what true love can be. Forever may come and go, but love is daily!