I wake up with a dark hole of emptiness eating through my chest, and it takes me a second to realize why.
My little girl is gone. The child that I loved from the minute I set eyes on her is gone. I still remember how she felt sleeping heavily in my arms that first night, her chunky bandages awkwardly propped against me. When she woke and stirred in my arms, I said, “Sweetheart, I’m going to take you to my house to get better. Is that okay?”
She nodded and nestled her head in my chest again. Will and I brought her home to the bed waiting for her, a new white bed with navy and white chevron sheets.
As the days passed, her body healed and her sadness healed. Will held her and sang to her. I rocked her and carried her next to my heart, sometimes taking her around the block for a bit of fresh air. My other children played with her, teaching her how to hold kittens or make mudpies.
Taking care of her was hard–harder than I expected. The tantrums and triggers were not easy to deal with. But I loved her so much. I indulged her with the chocolate milk she liked so well, just because I enjoyed seeing her perched on her stool, chugging down the milk with a blissful expression on her face.
Slowly I built her trust. Whenever I had to leave the house, she would ask me, “Mama, are you going to come back?”
“Yes, child, I will come back,” I always said.
Then one day she left, and I never showed up, because I couldn’t. I didn’t “come back” as I had promised.
I can’t get it out of my mind that I betrayed her trust. That year of loving her feels wasted. All the love I had could not keep her safe.
I message my sisters. “I am so DONE with foster care.” Because I really am done. I see how little the system cares about anybody.
The sense of loss I feel is hard to describe or rationalize. She isn’t my biological child. She didn’t die. The house is beautifully quiet now without all that screaming. But I had worked so hard to bond with her. Sometimes loving was easy, other times it was not. I feel wrung out and spent.
I am done with foster care.
But then I hear about a small girl with strawberry-blond hair who stands by her caseworker and silently cries while the caseworker tries in vain to find her a place for the night. My heart lurches. Maybe I’m not done.
I think about the empty bed with its smooth, chevron-patterned sheets. I think about the chocolate milk in our fridge, and the empty chair beside me at the table. I think about my family gathered around me, people who are imperfect but tenderhearted nonetheless.
The little girl finds another home. But I realize that this thing called love is impossible for me to get away from.
Love is not a transaction, where we receive the value of what we gave. Love by nature empties itself, just as Jesus gave Himself on the cross.
“Love is never wasted,” people say, which is true in a sense. Many times the working of love is slow and unseen, but nonetheless powerfully present, affecting both the giver and receiver.
Yet I see now that loving is a certain kind of wasting. It’s a life-blood being poured out recklessly without guarantee of gratitude or reception. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said. How much of His love has the world received?
I think about the waste of love, and about the strawberry-blond girl waiting for a mother and a home.
I know in my heart that I am not done.
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.
CS Lewis, The Four Loves
How have you chosen the wastefulness of love in your life right now?