[this sweet, soft image is here to distract you from the gritty content below]
"I mean, I love other kids, but not like I love my kids... so I just don't think fostering and adopting is for me."
"I just don't think I could love another child like I love my own."
"It wouldn't be fair to the child, because I know I couldn't love them the same."
Y'all... my blood boils when I hear these. Hot. Bubbles right through my veins and I taste the salty, rusty taste on the inside of my cheek from my silent biting that is my best attempt at self control. AND, you'd think it ticks me off because it's not true, because the love is just the exact same. But, that's not the whole reason I get irked. I get mad because it's kind of true. People say it to us like we're over here just throwing love around like it's confetti... but it's hard work. It's a secret that foster moms talk about together, huddled in quiet corners, not wanting everyone to hear because it makes us feel like big fat failures. We have to build the love. It's not immediate and perfect, and mushy and fulfilling, and OURS right away.
The love doesn't FEEL the same. Remember when we talked about that? I'm real with you guys here. We want it to. We want all of those moments with the babies who weren't ours to begin with. We want the wash of hormones that makes us feel all mushy gushy and forget the hardness and the frustrations of parenting. We want to feel exactly the same levels of everything with our fostered and adopted kiddos that we felt when we held our slippery, cheesy, screaming, ten-months-of-waiting-but-still-brand-new, born-to-us, born-of-us, little babies to our chests the day they were born. We want it all. But it's not ours.
...we love. We CHOOSE love. When we want those moments-- those bliss-filled moments of overwhelming emotion that come so easily with our born-to-us babies-- we have to choose them. We have to make them. We have to pull them out of thin air sometimes.
Not because these babies [even if they're 16 yrs old they're babies, k?] are unlovable, or horribly smelly, or awful, or anything other than just kids... but because there's a piece missing. A piece that should be there but isn't because sin broke it, stole it right away from these children and it never belonged to you or me to begin with.
Want to feel those sweet connections with that child who's so foreign to you? It doesn't just come over you. It's not something you can just decide to feel... but you can help yourself get there.
Want to feel those feelings?
Do the things.
You have to do the things of love to get the feelings of love. Because we all know, love's not just a feeling. It's a choice. It's action.
So, we do the things. The things of love eventually bring the feelings of love, too. When we want to feel all connected, when we know we're not, we have to draw near, press in, reach out. See, when your born-to-you baby does certain things, looks like that man you love with all of your heart, seems so familiar, seems so YOURS... you draw in because the feelings tell you to. The feelings woo you. This thing we're doing is sometimes sort of backwards. We have to woo the feelings to come to us. When we want to feel the feelings, we do the things.
Babies born to us grow in us. We grow together. Our bellies grow big with the days they grow in us. Our breasts grow full to fill them. Our tears well up and over when theirs do. We are grown together. Naturally. Organically.
Then someone drops off a stranger's child on your doorstep. A stranger whose body grew big, too. Her breasts got full with what that child needed, too. Her tears probably ran the day she met her child, too. But something broke along the way. Their growing together didn't work quite the same. Maybe she grew to love something else more. Something that told her it would love her back, but it didn't. It lied to her. It wooed her away from her child. But that child still needed it all. Still needed to be growing with someone. Still needed all of the love that the Mama should be able to give.
But here that child stands... on our doorstep. Asking, "Can someone love me? My Mama tried, but she couldn't. Can these people love me? Can we do the growing together? Is that possible?"
Child, yes. Oh my soul, YES! You are worth the love. All of it. It got broken, but we want to help.
When we want to feel the feelings, we do the things.
When we feel disconnected, we intentionally connect.
When we feel like we're holding a stranger's child, we hold them a little closer.
When we feel like they aren't ours, we kiss them and sing hymns over them.
When we feel like what they're doing is so different and confusing, we invite them to do things with us.
When we feel like giving up because some days the feelings are so different and so hard, we scoop them up and plant kisses on them while we teach our hearts to memorize their smell and the way their hair tickles our noses as we breathe and hold them close.
We hold them close and pray for them.
We rock them.
We play with them.
We read to them.
We do the things... and you know what? The feelings come.
They do, friends.
These precious children aren't unlovable. There's nothing wrong with them [that wouldn't be wrong with us if we were abandoned, neglected and abused at our most vulnerable times]. There's nothing about them that makes them any harder to love than our born-to-us babies [because let's be real, our born-to-us kids aren't perfect and can be absolutely difficult sometimes]... except we have brokenness in us. Brokenness that lies to us and tells us we should only love what's ours. What looks like us. What smells like us. What we're used to. What feels familiar. What we've grown and built. What feels like me. Mine.
Sin. That's what I believe it is. You might believe it's some leftover animal instinct or something, but isn't that just as bad? Aren't they both things to overcome? Things we know are poison to us living higher and better?
Ever asked a couple who went through rocky times how they mended their marriage? They drew in. They pressed in and did the things of love so the feelings of love would come back. I promise. You might have married someone and felt head over heels, but what about when those feelings fade? When that person changes [because we all do]? Do you say, "oh, I guess I just can't love him/her like I loved the old him/her so probably marriage just isn't for me." No. I hope not. You press in. You find the love again.
Because love is a choice and the feelings are the result of the choice. Not the other way around.We're supposed to love others the way we want to be loved, and the way we love ourselves [luke 10.27]. You know one way you love yourself? You love your children. They're yours. You love them because they're yours. If we're loving others like we love ourselves shouldn't we love children who need parents, children who aren't ours, like we love our own?
But that feels weird, not like love. But when we want to feel the feelings, we do the things.
This isn't just Jesusy stuff, either. I mean it is... because all truth is His truth... but the world is catching up to what God's already told us to be true about love. For example this excerpt from an article in Psychology Today:
"Many people assume that the link between emotion and behavior is one-way: Emotions shape behavior. You love him, therefore you kiss him. You hate him, therefore you hit him. This view is incorrect. In fact, the relationship is reciprocal. Much of the time, behavior actually shapes emotion.
Ever wonder why so often the actor and actress who play a couple in a movie fall in love on the set? Multiple processes are involved, to be sure. Both are usually young and attractive. They have much in common. They hang around each other a lot. All these are known predictors of mate selection.
But they also do love scenes together. They have to act like people who care deeply for each other. They look into each other's eyes, they touch each other. They act out the behaviors of love. No wonder the emotion of love often follows."
When we do the things of love, we invite the feelings of love. All of it. We grow it, we feel it, we give it, and we get it. And, when you're connected to a source of unending, unconditional, uncompromising, real Love... the Lover of our souls, then you won't run out of it. You won't run dry. You won't fear. Perfect love casts out all fear [1 john 4.18].
So-- try this on. Just say it to yourself out loud:
Our children are so fantastically amazing because they're born to us! To AMAZING WONDERFUL ME! They're just like me in so many ways so I can love them so freely. They're adorable and I can just build my life around them because they're half me, and half that man/woman whom I love and am smitten with. You're welcome world, for the gift of MY kids. MINE. MINE. MINE. Those other kids? I couldn't love them the same. I shouldn't even try because I just know I couldn't. I only have that kind of love for the things that belong to me.Feel icky? Feel shameful? Feel wrong? That's what my ears hear whenever people say "I just don't think I could love another child like I love my own."
Plus, would we say that to our kids' faces? Would we dare to look at them and say, "Mommy and Daddy only have enough love for you and your brother/sister. We love you, because you're ours, but we just couldn't love anyone else like we love you." Imagine their little faces. Would they look at you with questions? What if they asked "Why, Mama?" Does that not punch you in the gut? If they asked "why?" what on earth would we say? But what if they just took it? What if they just ate it right up and began to think that they are more worthy of love than others?
My kids haven't looked at me yet and said, "You know, it's easier to love my brother/sister than it is to love this baby because she's not ours." We told them that for today we have a baby sister. She might get to stay, she might not, but for today she's our baby. You know what they did? They fell in love. They adore her. Isn't there something pure and precious about that? They love a baby, as a sister, just because for today this child is here as a sister. What sweet freedom they have in their hearts, and oh that we could find a measure of it in our own hearts too!
I'm not saying it's easy or the same-- this love. But I am saying this thought is the absolute wrong perspective and motivator. None of us are perfect love-givers. Hear me! None of us are loving exactly like we should. A lot of us feel like we're just trying to keep from drowning in our best efforts. We aren't any different from you or somehow more magically able to love, except that we've said yes to doing the things. The hard things. The uncomfortable things. The things of love.
Love isn't ours to give or not give. Love is a command.
Don't think you have enough love to give to children who aren't yours? Then you're choosing not to without ever really considering that maybe you could. You're choosing not to draw from and trust the ultimate Love-Giver. And it's a shame, because love grows, and it gives back, even when it isn't "the same." So, please don't let that be the thing that holds you back. Ask yourself the hard questions. There are legitimate reasons for some folks to say no to opening their homes... but this... this "they aren't mine so clearly I couldn't love them right" thing can't be the reason. Can it?