I learned in 8th grade Sunday school class that grace is God’s unearned love.
Foster care has taught me many things, but I think most of all I have learned about grace. Obviously, my life has changed in wildly significant and truly inexplicable ways in the last 7 years. I have learned about myself, my wife, my family, my friends. I have been shown mercy and love. I have been disappointed, heartbroken, ecstatic, relieved, humbled. I thought I knew what was going to happen to us in the foster care experience, but that was so foolish. My naivety led me to believe I had it all under control, and my experience shows me time and time again, I do not.
The learning curve for parenting in a “normal” situation is pretty steep from what I can gather. Tiny people with their own minds and own agendas often throw a kink in the plan parents make. The learning curve for parenting in foster care is doubly steep, maybe even more so for first time parents. Maybe if you’ve parented biological children, rearing extra children who often have their own set of trauma and loss and complications may be somewhat more navigable. I doubt it, but perhaps. In foster care, there are social workers and biological parents and doctors and healthcare workers and GALs and counselors and a plethora of individuals invested in a child. Add all of this on top of trying to figure out how to parent, and it can be overwhelming at times, to say the least.
I was not prepared for the complex path that we came to after adoption was completed. My children have two sets of parents now, biological and us. They do not remember their biological families, but one of our children asks about birth parents a lot. Answering in appropriate, developmentally sound ways is not always easy. This is not a simple life. When foster care first came into our lives, I had no time for parents who did not take care of their children. It is still foreign to me, but the compassion I feel has multiplied significantly for the position many people find themselves in.
We have no relationship with two birth parents. We have an extremely limited one with the third. The fourth is a person we keep in touch with regularly. A biological grandmother is the person we have the most contact with via email and now texting. She has always sent gifts for her grandchild. She asks regularly how everyone is and updates us on the birth parent she mothers. I sat down with her last year and talked with her for a long time in Starbucks; learning her perspective and answering her questions. She spent time with her grandchild soon after in a very limited and controlled setting. There was fun and laughing and sharing, our baby none the wiser to the significance of this moment to the grown-ups there and to her. This woman thanked us, told us so many times that this opportunity truly meant more to her than anything and was more than she ever imagined she would have the opportunity for. Seven years ago, I would have never considered this to be an option. I’m still not so great about it…I am the hesitant party in our marriage. How do you protect your children, make them feel loved and safe, answer their questions, address their losses, provide them with the right opportunities to know different people and parts of their former selves without screwing it all up? I wish I had the answers. I wish someone I could talk to had the answers. What a complicated and tangled ball of emotions to unravel.
I want to close the door on the past, lock it, and never go back. This is not reality, nor is it healthy for our children. I want to say, “You had your chance.” Grace has shown me otherwise. Grace has reminded me over and over again that we are all imperfect. We have circumstances, moments, life-altering events that mold us into the people we are. We have support systems, goals, relationships, money, opportunities given to us; or we do not. There are so many factors into who we become and the path our lives take. The formula is changing every day, for every person, in an infinite number of ways. How do we end up being the person we are? There is so much that factors in, most of it out of our control. I can no longer close the door and think how much better I am than someone else. Foster care has erased that lie in my brain.
Life is hard to explain and often hard to figure out. I have figured out that everything is not so simple, not so black and white. I yearn for life to be a mystery I can determine. Clearly, it is not. I have figured out that the one thing we must offer to each other, over and over again, is grace.
How do we show love to others?
How do we show unearned love to others?
How do we show God’s unearned love to others?
How do we show God’s unearned love to ourselves?
Striving for grace.