I wrote this in August after I found out T was getting adopted, but before he had any clue what his new reality was going to be. That was a hard season for me for lots of reasons, but one of the biggest was that I’ve always tried to be honest with him. About everything. But that was the second time in our two years together that I couldn’t tell him the whole truth right away, and it was brutal.
I overanalyze everything. But when I decided to do foster care, I didn’t think. I just acted. I have excess. I thought. More time, more space, more resource than I need. So, I just kept doing the next thing—I filed the next form, sat through the next interview, went to the next training—until T showed up on my doorstep one Sunday afternoon. I was terrified, but I tried not to let it show.
“I’m T. I’m in foster care,” he said—swaying back in forth in a now-familiar rhythm, a movement that means he’s beyond overwhelmed.
And I won’t lie: in the two years since that day, I’ve had plenty of moments of doubt. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the reality of life with T was very different from how the agency had described it. So I questioned my decision and second-guessed everything. Why did I do this? Why am I sticking this out? Why me? Why this kid? Why now?
When the prophet Jeremiah ended up with a gig he didn’t want, he beat his fists and screamed: You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. Jeremiah blamed God for putting him in a situation he didn’t ask for, and he cried out in protest. Sometimes, I feel like doing the same.
Like the day someone from a local agency came to my house to do an assessment of T. The thought was T could get additional services to help him navigate the world—to help him understand his own trauma, mitigate his outbursts, and, ultimately, lessen the impact it was having on me.
It was a season of exhaustion. It was a season in which I almost quit. T was having daily fits that were lasting for hours—at school and at home. It was too much. I was overwhelmed all the time.
But having this assessment felt like a ray of hope. Maybe things would get better. Maybe something would change. Until the worker walked in, looked around, and then looked straight at me. I hadn’t said a word yet. I hadn’t talked about T. I hadn’t explained the screaming, the swearing, or the physical harm he inflicted on himself in his very worst moments. He pinches himself until he leaves bruises. He smashes his head into the wall. He bites me and hits me, too.
I hadn’t said any of that. Yet. But the worker didn’t look away. He kept staring straight at me, and he said something I’ll never forget. This man who didn’t know me. This man who had been in my home for less than a minute.
“You’re never going to be the biggest fire, Amy. You’re never going to get the help you need because your case will never be the most severe.”
I didn’t know what he meant right then, but his sentiment has slowly pushed itself into my reality. His comment has grown into a truth I can’t shake. My home is quiet and clean. There’s order. I’m educated; I have resources and support. And I’m loyal. I don’t give up on people without a fight. I made a commitment to T, and I’ll figure out how to see it through.
And, so, I’m never going to be the worst-case scenario. I’ll never be the most severe. I’ll never be the biggest fire in a broken system with so much pain and so much dysfunction. But it feels like there is a fire raging out of control. Right now, in this moment, when I know T is getting adopted but he remains clueless to his fate.
On Saturday, we walked to our favorite local breakfast place. T asked me to scratch his back, and I gladly complied. He leaned into my arms and said, “Amy, I hope I’m adopted someday. But I think after I’m adopted, we should still meet here. It can be for you and me. Because we’ll still be friends. We’ll have breakfast together, and this can be our place. Amy, did you know you’re one of my most favorite people?”
“Ditto, buddy. There’s no one I’d rather be waiting for French toast with than you.” But I know he’s moving to another state. I know his dreams of breakfast dates will never be a reality. Like Jeremiah, it feels like there is a fire shut up in my bones I can’t contain.
“I’ll never leave this city, Amy. This is my home. It’s the only place I’ll ever live. You are here, and so is my sister. So, I’ll stay here forever.”
And the fire burns my skin. My cheeks are warm with its raging flame. My eyes burn from the smoke and I have to look away.
“No one knows what the future holds, buddy. I’ll always love you, though. I do know that. I hope you know it, too”
“I do know, Amy. And I know I’m not going anywhere.” He said it confidently as he laid his head on my lap. “We’ll meet for breakfast. You and me. It will be good.”
And the flames grow so high I can’t breathe, and the glow is blinding. The glow of this little person who has kicked me in the stomach and bitten me and head-butted me. Who has destroyed my carpet with his urine and spit food all over my walls. This little human who has brought me oh-so-much joy and gladness.
It hurts and it’s hard and it’s sad and it’s good. And I try to hold the tension of all those things because I can’t look away. I’ve seen the need and the desperation and the system that is so very screwed up. And I can’t look away.
T has driven me to my breaking point. I’ve been the very worst version of myself so many times over the past two years. But when you see the truth, when you see the depth of the need, you know the fire in your bones can’t actually burn you up. It simply pushes you to do what needs to be done—even though it’s not convenient, and even though it hurts.