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Saying Goodbye to a Child you Love. Again.

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Every baby that has come to us as a foster child, we’ve been able to adopt. That’s just how it’s worked for us. For people who only know that side of our story, I’ve seen some incredulity about how we can ask people to walk into the pain of potential love and loss of foster care when we haven’t experienced it ourselves. What people don’t know about us is that we loved and lost 17 young men prior to becoming foster parents.

We spent five years in group home work where we grew to love the boys in our home with all we had in us. We met them as strangers, grew to love them as our children, and then said goodbye. And today we did it all over again.

It’s been long enough (about nine years) since we left group home work that I almost forgot what this feels like. But today I wandered around my house and washed the last glass, threw away the last bits of trash, dusted the place where his computer used to be and felt that familiar feeling.

It’s loss. It’s grief that I can’t protect the people I love or help them make choices I think would be wise. It’s the sadness of the empty place at the table. It’s the avoidance of THAT room because if I don’t go into it, then maybe he’s still there. But he’s not there. He’s gone. Again.

We have been blessed to have one of our group home kids back in our world for a season (the last six months). It was beautiful and redemptive and hard and I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point (with his blessing). But today I watched him drive away and there aren’t a lot of coherent thoughts I can put together. It all feels pretty raw.

His story doesn’t belong to me. I don’t get to tell it because I am not the main character. But I can tell you that he’s loved and that I know he knows it. I can tell you I have zero regrets about asking him to come live with us. My greatest fears didn’t end up being anything to worry about. My kids were safe and loved having this big brother back in their lives. But my greatest hopes weren’t realized either.

I am trying to make peace with the idea that I can’t create a happy ending to this story. But that’s good, because this isn’t the end. This story started about 14 years ago and as the years have gone by, there have been many new chapters. This last chapter has been precious. We’ve been able to have a front row seat to the life of someone we love, a person we influenced during a pivotal time, but a person we don’t get to control. We are thankful for this opportunity to once again be there for a season of his life, and we hope there are more seasons to come where we can be active participants and not just outside observers.

To love is to open ourselves up to pain. That’s the reality. They don’t tell you that when they hand you that precious bundle in the hospital. For a little while maybe you can control things and you think maybe your job is to avoid pain– theirs and yours. But you can’t avoid pain forever, and even if you could, it wouldn’t be a healthy way to live.

You get a little more of a heads-up when your introduction to parenting is through a courtroom or a social worker’s office or in an orphanage or through a stranger arriving at your doorstep. That person has already been through pain before you ever met. You may have walked through your own pain to get to this point, too. Parenting is not a journey of pain avoidance. It is often about learning to embrace pain, accept pain, and then heal pain.

Today was painful in the very best and worst ways. But this pain is not what defines my relationship with this young man. Today we watched the eclipse together and in the bizarre sunset of 1 p.m. I was reminded that sometimes what looks like an ending isn’t quite what it seems. While I see the sun setting on this chapter, there’s a lot of life left to live (Lord willing).

When children are granted to us for a season (maybe 18 years, maybe 18 months, maybe 18 days) we are not just committing to them for that season. That’s not how life works. Life is long even when this season is short. We are committing to love them in whatever capacity we are granted for the rest of our lives. We are opening ourselves up to pain and joy and uncertainty– whatever God has for us. There may not be a happy ending because the end hasn’t been written yet. As long as we’re here, there’s still a role for us to play in loving this child and these children. Having a door to your heart that is always propped open. . . it’s hard.

Risking loving again meant risking losing. Again. And yet we would do it all over again for the ability to pour love and hope and whatever answers we can give into this soul. And hopefully we will get the chance to do it all over again and again and again for as long as we get to be parents to the children God gave us for however long or short and in whatever capacity they need us.

Tonight, I don’t have the answers. I have lots of questions. I have doubts and grief and pride and hope. And I feel more strongly than ever that we need to offer what we have to give– our families, our homes, our love– to those who need it, without expectations (but with lots of healthy boundaries). We can’t control the outcomes, we can’t write the story, we can’t make the ending be what we most want. But we can give and trust that God will do something with that gift.

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