My feelings for my job — my lifestyle — are equal parts love and hate. There are so many things about it that empower and humble me. There are endless opportunities to marvel at and participate in other-centred love. But there’s also so much that hurts. And just when I think I’ve got it handled, I get sucker punched.
I’ve lost count of how many times visceral disappointment, grief, fear, and anger have torn through my body. I used to try grabbing calm or getting distracted, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to not be okay. The rug I pieced together — again — has been yanked from under me — again — and I’m flat on my back. Again. It’s okay to be winded and stunned. So rather than dismiss or condemn, I let myself feel all the things I think my kids would feel if they knew what I knew. My capacity for emotion is part of why I’m good at this job. I’m fully in — live or die.
The advice for foster parents used to be this: guard your heart. Early on, I was given that guidance by some people who have been in the field for a long time. I promptly disregarded it. I’m not in this for my heart. Not for its wholeness and safety, anyway — its breaking and birthing, rending and renewing, though, is another matter. I’m not going to say that I had no selfish motivation entering this life; I wanted to build my family. I still hope that adoption is part of our story, even though I understand that the crown of this system is family restoration. But more than my own wants, I’m in this to put my boots on the ground, my flesh in the fire, and my heart on the altar. I’m in this to root my life in my Father’s heart and learn how to love — for real. I’m in this to be transformed in ever-increasing glory.
And, of course, more than anything, I’m in this for them. I can’t change what’s happened or what they were born into. I can advocate with all the strength I have for what I — the mom who hears their nighttime fears and soothes their overwhelmed little bodies — think is best for them. But I can’t assure them of much. I don’t know — at all — what their life might look like years or days from now. Tomorrow everything could be different. And when I’m reminded of just how little influence I have, my everything rebels. When the body-wracking blows come, I want to run. I want to bolt for the freaking hills — my lungs pumping with panic and my feet grabbing the ground urgently. My instinct is to preserve my heart. When risk dwarfs my control, I hear myself whisper: Fine. Take them then. Let me get back to my life. This is followed by mortified sorrow — every. single. time. I hate that I have any shadow of want to pull away, to return to some sort of normalcy.
I know, deep down, that there is no normal to return to. There is no returning. I can’t un-know what I know. I can’t un-feel what I feel. I can’t live like there aren’t kids who might need my heart and my home. As much as sometimes I want to cave in — to pull up and move on — there are other times that I’m desperate to do — anything and everything that might help. I know I’m not their saviour. It’s crucial to remember that foster parents aren’t heroes or saints, and the kids they love aren’t going to revere or thank them as such. When I think that having control would make things better for them, that I could make their lives better, that means I’ve forgotten who their Dad is. He’s the teller of their stories, the master author of good endings, the bringer of redemption, and the unshakeable companion of their everyday. Could I do better than him? Not in a million years.
From the word go, I’ve genuinely wished that their parents would be set free from their demons. I want that for them so badly: a life of all the good things. I’m a believer in chances and I want to give them all the chances. But sometimes, right beside that want, I rage at those same parents (not to their faces of course! I mean have you met me!?). Actually, I rage at a lot: At the objective policies that miss the details of subjective stories. At the fact that a stranger behind a bench decides the fate of all our hearts — hearts that are so deeply entrenched in complicated love. At the abuse of Indigenous communities that adds another layer of complexity to this bizarre world. At the sense that my part feels so very small, so very insignificant, and so very undervalued. And — more than anything — at the shitty reality these kids were given; it’ll never be easy for them. It all makes me so angry.
But. I’m head over aching heels for these kids. And I know that I know that I know I’m meant to be theirs — for now or forever. I’m confident I’m doing Jesus-work. I love leaning into him here. I love knowing I can’t do this without him. I love needing him.
But. I’m weary to my core of how hard and unrelenting it is to serve here.
When I close my eyes and picture myself torn with all these opposing feelings — frustration, helplessness, fury, indignation, hope, love, purpose, and weariness — I see a blurry figure thrashing, tantruming, screaming. Basically, I’m a toddler who needs to get all the ugly out.
I don’t know how I balance all these things each day. And I guess I don’t all days. On those flat-on-my-back-days I get some donuts, send a ton of ranting texts, swear a lot, cry angry tears, and let myself be steaming mad for awhile. I live with my heart on the line all the damn day, day after day. And I try really hard to be rational, calm, compassionate, and understanding. But sometimes I need to give way to all those uncontainable feelings that I try to compartmentalize — stuffing in all the rebelling bits while I stubbornly park myself on the lid — until the next sucker punch rips a big hole in my best efforts. And I think that’s okay. I’d be a useless mother if I felt it all constantly, but I’d be no mother at all if I never felt any of it.
The point of foster care is to give families a chance to become safe and healthy. People deserve a chance — or many — and someone has to hold space for that. Kids aren’t equipped to survive this life alone and we shouldn’t expect them to. They need to be safe and loved while their parents do their work. But the truth is, some of their parents can’t get a firm grip on those chances — for so many reasons — and the kids pay the price for that. But the ones who hold space pay a price, too. They can’t walk away unscathed — if they can walk away at all. They’re tangled into a tricky little web with strangers turned family.
I’m a space holder. I knew — kind of — what that meant. But that was before it got messy, before my emotions got involved, before my heart wanted contradictory things. Before I fell in love. I crossed an invisible line into a world of greys and grief and sorrow and storms and sacrifice and joy and victory and laughter and unfathomable love. Here it’s cloudy and confusing. It’s the most unpredictable, complicated, and dissonant place I could imagine. And somehow, it’s my home. How the girl who loves comfort, assurances, consistency, routine, control, and safety ended up here is a something only Jesus can explain.
Thank God God is here.