Before Thanksgiving I found myself doing a deep clean of our basement in preparation for the return of someone special to us. He had lived with us for years during our group home days, then returned about a decade later (this last winter) to live with us for another six months. While he’s now living hours away, he was coming “home” for Thanksgiving.
As I was dusting a shelf, I moved this little framed photo.
I can remember his proud face as he handed me this treasure he created in Vacation Bible School. Many times these items were given to me with specific instructions to, “Save this for my mom.” I dutifully followed those instructions, so there was a special joy when something was made just for me. This little picture (along with a similar one from another one of our boys) has been proudly displayed in every home we’ve lived in since it was given to me over ten years ago.
I’ve packed it up and moved it from home to home—homes this young man would never know. We’ve never stopped caring for him or the other boys whose pictures we also have around our house. As I was dusting around that picture, I was reminded of the only place that has MY childhood pictures proudly displayed. It’s my parents’ house. My safe place. My home.
Brian and I have been caring for kids for the last 14 years. My priorities are different now than they were when we first started. My understanding of what we’re doing in all this has continued to change and develop. When we first started, my hope was to take good care of kids who needed us. As the years went by, my vision expanded to consider a love and compassion for the parents and families of those kids, no matter their choices or attitude towards me. At this point, a new vision is starting to appear—one I wish I’d had from the beginning.
Our years with these kids may be short, but the hope is our relationship with them will be long. They continue to exist long after they leave our homes. Their need for support doesn’t stop when they age out or get reunified. Their need to know their history may be something only we can help to explain. They want to have someone be proud of them who knows their struggles.
I’m beginning to take the long view of loving these kids and their families.
Loving these kids means loving the adults they become.
There are years it would have been easier to put that little picture away. There is a cost associated with love. It has been painful over the years to see that little face and know I couldn’t control what was happening in his life. I couldn’t be the one to tuck him in, to talk him through his crushes or friend problems, to help him plan his future. I wanted to be his every day mom and I couldn’t be. It would have been easier to pack those pictures away and pretend he wasn’t still growing and changing without us.
But we didn’t go that route. We kept those boys in the forefront in our mind, facing the pain we experienced at not being able to be with them. And even harder, facing the pain we had caused them by leaving.
That thought still hurts. 10 years later.
And now we get the joy of being the place he’d want to spend Thanksgiving. We never stopped loving him and those little pictures of his life tell that story. I think this has been very healing for all of us. I wish I could have that experience with each of the kids we’ve loved and lost. There’s more life to live. I’m still holding out hope.
When he first came home I put a childhood picture of him in his room. We pulled out the old photo albums. We told the old stories. This is what it means to be family—to be known and loved for who you are and who you’ve been even when things are hard.
I’m glad my perspective has shifted. I’m glad I’ve been at this long enough to develop this long view of the relationships we develop with the kids and families. I’m glad to be able to be home for someone who has needed it and who may continue to need it. That’s what we decided to do when we first got into this 14 years ago, even if we didn’t know that’s what we were deciding at the time.
The pictures will stay up, just like my childhood pictures are still up at my parents’ house. The Christmas decorations those boys created are on the tree. There’s a college graduation announcement taped on the kitchen cabinet from a young man I’m so proud of. In a world of transition and instability, I’m holding space for these kids I love. I can’t not. Even if they never make it here, my home is where their pictures are.