"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I am convinced Lewis was speaking about Foster Care when he penned this message.
When my sister and her husband decided to become foster parents, the whole family inadvertently signed up. Foster grandparents, foster great-grandparents, foster cousins, foster uncles, and foster aunts.
We became a foster family.
We opened our homes and our hearts to these precious little ones who came to live with my sister and brother-in-law. We included them in our traditions, in our holidays. They were part of our family pictures. We played battle ship and doctor and Legos. We sewed superhero capes and masks. We helped them learn to ride a bike. We took them to the park. We drove them to school. We took them for ice cream to celebrate the start of Christmas break. We took them exploring downtown. We took them to the zoo. We took them on vacation.
We included them.
We treated them as if they had been part of our family since birth.
As a foster aunt, I am grateful beyond words for those special memories made with the foster children. I got to experience first trick-or-treating adventures and first Easter egg hunts. I got to hold a baby as he experienced a swimming pool for the first time, and help a six-year-old learn how to swim in that same pool. I witnessed the awe of seeing fireworks for the first time. I love that I was there for all of those moments.
I made myself vulnerable.
I opened my heart to these precious little ones, and my heart was both wrung and broken.
It’s hard to walk a six-year-old to school and watch him walk into the big building alone, him stopping every few steps to wave goodbye to you, all the while praying that he is safe. It’s hard when your sister texts you, frustrated beyond words, about the bad behavior the child is showing. It’s hard when you see the pain of abandonment and confusion in little eyes, and being completely helpless to take that pain away. It’s hard when the question “Who is my dad?” is asked and you have no idea how to answer it. It’s hard when a baby cries for hours and you don’t know what to do to make it better for the little one. It’s hard when you hear of parents not caring if their child ever lives with them again. Those are hard, everyday moments a foster family traverses.
But those heart-wrenching moments are worth it in the end.
It’s worth it to hear Christmas carols being sung all year long. It is worth it the first time you see a baby smile at you. It is worth it to see the joy on the face of a toddler, who desperately wants attention, when you spend an afternoon playing with them. It’s worth it when a six-year-old snuggles up next to you on the couch, laughing at his favorite TV show. It’s worth it the first time you make a baby laugh. It’s worth it to hear a little boy singing along with the radio to country music.
It’s worth it to hear a six-year-old tell you “I love you” for the first time.
I did not choose to become a foster aunt; the situation was put upon me. I did, however, choose to be vulnerable. I chose not to lock my heart in a coffin of my selfishness to avoid being broken. I loved the little ones, despite the risk. And I am glad that I did.
I would not, in a million years, trade the love I shared with the foster children for an "unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable" heart. Rather, I have learned the value of freely loving in the moment. In the foster care system, you never know when the last hug will be, when the last kiss will be, or when the last "I love you" will be. So as a foster family, we have learned not to take those hugs, kisses, and "I love yous" for granted. We receive them gratefully, and give them freely.