I wrote a version of the following article for a magazine about two months after T came to live with me in 2016. I stumbled on it tonight and am shocked (and grateful?) for how naive and hopeful I sounded.
I’ve been a foster parent for about ten seconds. But as a single woman turned first time, full-time caregiver, it feels like an eternity. In our initial week together, the seven-year-old boy now living in my house survived flushing his favorite Lego guy (a gift from his brother) down the toilet and a hand-foot-mouth scare. Both incidents took me squarely out of my comfort zone.
It’s a comfort zone three decades in the making, and its sides have been built with equal parts fear and familiarity. For years, I have chosen to go to what I know as a way of keeping myself safe.
But being directly responsible for another human being doesn’t feel very safe; especially one I just met and hardly know—one who talks nonstop and has no problem walking up to a woman wearing hijab to confirm his suspicion that she is a real-life ninja.
I don’t have a paradigm for navigating moments like that, so I feel exposed and vulnerable and afraid.
And ridiculous. Because I know my fears are unwarranted, and my comfort zone isn’t doing me any favors. I know it’s just a stumbling block for a deeper experience of God and life and relationship. And yet I can’t quite shake it, and there are lots of moments I want to crawl back into the security of last-minute girls’ weekends, late nights working at the office, and impromptu dinners out. For most of my life I’ve been free to go where I want, when I want.
But, if I’m honest, I’ve never felt very free.
So now I get up every morning and look into the eyes of a little kid who was taken away from his home and dropped off at a total stranger’s house. His deep blue eyes tell a hard, sad story—one he has had no say in writing, and one that has given him real reasons to feel exposed and vulnerable and afraid.
Those fears were triggered in a major way recently. In a kicking, screaming, I-hate-your-guts meltdown sort of way. We were in public, of course, and by the end of it I was fighting back tears, too.
Slowly, whatever upset him gave way to a quieter plea: “I’ll be good now,” he kept saying. “I’ll be good.” Like he was offering some last-ditch effort to combat the lie that has been whispered to him in countless ways throughout his life, the lie that makes him feel like he’s disposable—like he’s not enough.
I grabbed his little cheeks in my hands and said, “I need you to listen to me. Nothing will change how much I care about you. Nothing will change the fact that I want you around. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
I said it for him, of course. And I meant it. But I also said it to remind myself. Because as happy hours give way to finding lost shoes and telling bedtime stories, I have a growing sense that we need each other.
So even when I miss the way it used to be, I’ll keep trying to step into more and more moments with sweaty palms and a knot in my stomach—clumsily fighting for him to know he’s valued and loved. And for his part I have a feeling he will continue to chip away at my fears, tear down some of my walls, and help me stay on a first-name bases with my plumber. Hopefully along the way we’ll both end up with a deeper sense of what it means to love and to serve.