Are these your “real” kids?
What if you heard of a little boy? He’s a “real” little boy. He’s made of skin and bones, and soft spots mixed with knees and elbows. Soft brown hair and if you coax a smile you will see white milk teeth and a dimple. He’s sitting on the shelf with alligator tears and blankey clutched tightly. He smells like a little boy too, soap and sweat mixed with sunshine. He longs to be chosen from the shelf, dusted off and loved. He wants to be “REAL”.
In foster care, children often come to a home carrying a trash bag filled with the belongings they could jam in before leaving. They were given a few moments to grab the items most important in their world. Articles and knick knacks that helped define who they were. Favorite blankets or stuffed animals that give security. My foster children never came with prized belongings in a plastic bag. They came with a patient belonging bag filled with medical equipment and physician instructions. There was no evidence of childhood, just a collection of items highlighting their medical conditions and diagnoses. Children of trauma, neglect, and abuse that had escalated into the need for medical intervention. Broken babies with feeding pumps, oxygen tubing, suction machines, broken bones, bruises and medications.
I couldn’t do that,
it’d be too hard to let them go…
My first medical foster placement and I was scared out of my mind. Here was this tiny baby and he was so hurt. The prognosis for recovery was poor, a full recovery was pretty non-existent. I would gaze deep into his eyes and they were hollow and void. I would walk the floor at night as he screamed a primal, unearthly cry. The brain injury caused severe headaches if he lay flat, so my husband and I took turns sleeping sitting up. I recall one night that I sat in my car because his screaming was waking up the rest of the kids. It all seemed very hopeless as the screams from this tiny baby rose into the night air with my prayers for his recovery. I was exhausted and he was so broken.
The nights and days slipped by, and the boy miraculously began to heal. Every week was a team of therapists and specialists who helped us work with him. His progress was nothing short of amazing, with physicians dumbfounded over his recovery. The days slowly turned to months and seasons. And slowly the boy became “real”. He became a little boy that smiled with a dimple and toddled with his first steps. He popped his first tooth through a gummy grin and his first word was “da-da”. He loved the outdoors and would sit in a sandbox with trucks for hours. He was real and became ours. And then it came time for him to return to family and I felt my world tilt on its axis and my heart crumbled. I wept great big, angry tears for a boy who lived in my home for a year and a half and only knew me as his mother. The sorrow was a thick blanket and it seemed hard to breathe, let alone function. Yet, I knew that this is what I had signed up for, and I prayed my angry prayers and God met me in the ashes and pain. And I knew that as deeply as I hurt, I would choose it again. I was stronger than I believed and my heart was meant to give, not gain. If I lived trying to protect myself, I would miss out on so much. I would not have seen the little boy become “real”, loved and valued. I would have missed his first smile, his first steps and trust restored.
The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me of foster children and orphans. The rabbit in the story longs to be loved enough to become real. His greatest desire is to be valued despite his tattered and worn body. He could not speak or verbalize his desires, pain or fears. He is completely dependent on being chosen. This is absolutely God’s picture of love for us. We are orphans that are tattered, broken and scared and he gave His Son in the greatest act of sacrifice and love. And it was not deserved.
Our society preaches the ideal that we must not be weak or we will be walked all over. Strength is in protecting ourselves, and we should never give more than we receive. You look around and you know that everyone has the desire to be valued. However we are teaching that we should attain love and value, but it should never be sacrificial. I am learning that this is not strength at all. In fact, true strength hung and died on a cross. Strength was pierced in the side and bled great droplets from His brow. Christ was the picture of strength through sacrifice for us. What is truly weak is when we wrap ourselves up and protect our hearts and minds from pain. It is holding tight to our hobbies and homes and looking away instead of reaching out to the hurting and hopeless. It is picking and choosing who we love, and avoiding sacrifice. Foster care and adoption hurt. Walking with the broken hurts. Giving sacrificially, hurts. This kind of love, hurts. I am not strong, I am not special. I was willing and God stepped in to cover my many failings.
I’m going to tell you it will be hell, this thing called love. It will hurt and there will be days that you can barely swallow the sorrow. You will be shouldering a pain that crushes, and yet it’s worth it. You will be instilling value and by doing so, you will lose parts of yourself. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, you will look past the broken buttons and tattered fur, and you will love. And when they leave your home, they will leave “REAL”, worthy and valued, and you will have lost. The tears will fall and your mind will revolt against choosing the pain. And yet, you will look back to the shelf and see another child that needs your love and in doing so you too, will become REAL.