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Loving a child that might leave

I'll never forget the day it all changed for me. My greatest fear, like so many others who are considering venturing down the beautiful yet tumultuous path of foster care, was not whether or not I could love a child that was not my own but whether or not I could handle letting a child go that I have grown to love as my own.

I couldn't get beyond this concern, and couldn't move forward because of it. I shared my fear with a friend who was a foster dad at the time, and his response both challenged and settled me. It revealed to me that my concerns were backwards, centered on me and how I might feel rather than on the child and how they do feel.

He said that for him and his wife, they were committed to experiencing the pain of loving a child they might lose if it meant a child who has lost so much could experience the gain of their love. A profound statement for me at the time, but one filled with a purity and simplicity that re-postured my concern –  away from what I stand to lose and toward what a child might stand to gain. In the simplest of terms I realized, it's not about me, it's about these kids. 

A different kind of fear
As my wife and I began the foster care process with a three-day-old baby girl, we had to make the same decision for ourselves – that we would rather experience the pain of a very great loss if it meant this little girl placed in our home, and any others to follow, could experience the gain of a very great love – no matter how long they stayed with us. We would embrace the heartache of having to let them go if it meant they knew, if even for a short time, what it meant to truly be held onto. 

We can't let the fear of loving a child who might leave deter us; we must let the fear of a child never knowing love drive us. A different kind of fear. A better one. 

Most foster parents have heard it said to them – I don't know if I could fully love a child knowing I might have to let them go – and every foster parent has had to wrestle with the weight of that statement in themselves. It's an inherent tension that comes with loving a child who is not your own – a tension that often deters people in fear from getting involved. We all know the end goal of foster care is to provide safe and loving permanence for a child, and we also know that permanence for them might not mean permanence for us. Our motivations are severely challenged by this very real possibility, revealing any self-centered disposition within ourselves – a posture which is more concerned about what it will cost us to give love to a child rather than what it will cost a child to never receive love from us. Yet then, as we weigh in balance what we stand to lose against what they stand to gain, the answer is simple – not always easy to do – but simple to see as worth it in the end. We can't let the fear of loving a child who might leave deter us; we must let the fear of a child never knowing our love drive us. 

Giving our family for a child
The call in foster care is not to get a child for your family; it's to give your family for a child. A slightly different statement with significantly different implications. Our first responsibility is to give, not receive; to open our families to a child whose world would otherwise be closed off to the safety and security of knowing a nurturing and loving home. That's not to say that a family can't grow through foster care – it sometimes does lead to adoption – or that a family doesn't receive endless amounts of blessings and joy through foster care – they no doubt can. It is to say, however, that our first call is to give, not receive – to recognize that true service of others almost always involves true sacrifice of self. 

Foster care and the gospel
In the end, our call is to fully love these children while we have them and accept the costs we may incur as worth it for the gain they may receive. This is nothing more than what Jesus has done for us. He joyfully laid down the infinite value of his own life so that we might know the immeasurable worth of being fully and unconditionally loved in him. 

Foster care is a beautiful expression of the gospel. It demands a selfless, costly and potentially painful love for the sake of a child gaining much as you willingly give all. As we labor to love with the love we ourselves have received from Jesus, we do so in a cloud of uncertainties and unknowns, but with the confidence of one guarantee – it's always worth it. Always.

By no means do I diminish the very real and raw stories of families who have loved someone else's child as their own and after eight days or even 18 months been required to let them go. Through sobbing we have felt that pain deeply along with you. There's nothing quite like putting a little girl that you've developed a deep love for in the back of a caseworker's car knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that where she's going is not good – while through her cries and tears begging us to not make her go. "Please don't make me go. I don't want to leave." We don't want you to either, sweetheart. With everything inside of us, we want you here. 

It's gut-wrenching, frustrating, devastating and yet never without meaning and purpose. The stories consistently on some level all sound the same; I know ours does – It was devastating to let them go but worth it to have had the opportunity to love them. Hard? Yes. Worth it? No question. The pain is worth it. 

Written by Jason Johnson, Director of Church Ministry Initiatives for Christian Alliance for Orphans, and a writer and speaker who encourages families and equips churches in their foster care and adoption journeys so they can find the hope and support they need along the way. He and his wife, Emily, have four daughters and are a licensed foster family in the state of Texas. This article originally appeared on jasonjohnsonblog.com.

May is National Foster Care Month. To learn more about how you can become a foster parent or support foster families in your community, visit buckner.org/nationalfostercaremonth.

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