It was a long winter break with the kids, and I was relieved to finally be sitting down having an adult brunch with one of my good friends; I had just dropped my kids off at school for the first time in three weeks, and I was elated and ready to have a meal without interruption.
Holiday travel and activities had kept us both extremely busy and we hadn’t talked in several weeks.
My friend was her usual smiling self as we greeted each other and sat down. We ordered coffee and let ourselves bask in the unhurried moment.
“So. How are you?! How was your break?!” I asked enthusiastically.
“I mean, how was your time?”
“Break” is a word I have stopped using to describe the time Moms of young children have during the Christmas holiday. The 2+ weeks without school and festivity preparations is more exhausting and more work than a normal week day. However, the memories can be sweet and her children are getting older, so I was anticipating a recap of Christmas highlights.
She sighed, but smiled, and began to describe the time with her family away in a cabin during Christmas day. Her time away was revitalizing and special to her. Having three kids, she cherished the quiet moments of snow and warm fireplaces.
“But then we came back on Dec. 26, and life got crazy.” She sat up straighter, got more serious, and when I looked into her eyes, I could see evidence that life had been somewhat intense.
She explained arriving home the day after Christmas and just when she began unloading the car, a five week old girl arrived at their house.
Of course they had gotten the request to care for this little girl a few days prior, cutting their trip a little short in order to accommodate. Nonetheless, life with a newborn suddenly made things different.
For the past year, my friend has opened her door to foster children for respite and short term care; she has loved 14 different babies and small children.
During the past year, I’ve heard stories from the front line as she and her family welcomed these children into their home; saying “yes” is never convenient or easy. However, her family has grown and learned lessons that significantly change the fabric of who they are as humans.
She explained to me that she received an urgent phone call. A five week baby girl desperately needed a place to stay for 10 days.
This baby, described by the previous caregivers as docile and sleepy, seemed to have woken up the first night she arrived in my friend’s home. For the next 10 days, my dear friend tended to a very colicky baby, (mostly between the hours of 6-2 am each night). Not sleeping much most nights and then spending the next day caring for her own three kids and this baby, my friend says that it was a challenge.
Yet she admitted this with a smile.
Despite her frustration and exhaustion, she cared lovingly for this child as if it was her own, changing endless diapers, pacing the house until 2 am so the rest of her family could finally get to sleep too; she admitted to feeling a bit guilty for not giving her own children the active, adventurous Christmas vacation they were hoping for. However, watching her children come around and love this baby too made it a family affair.
“How do you do this?” I asked in disbelief. “Why do you do this? How can you keep loving like this?”
I honestly didn’t understand. Having four kids of my own, I feel depleted and exhausted most of the time. Taking in babies and children of strangers seems completely overwhelming and nonsensical to me. Yet, I have quite a few good friends who do just this. I watch them from afar and marvel at their unconditional, unwavering, dedicated love.
What I’m learning though is that their love for these kids is an authentic, decisive love. It is not the Hallmark love displayed at Valentines Day.
What I’m realizing from talking to my friends about their experiences is that this type of love really has nothing to do with feelings.
It has nothing to do with hopeful expectations or requirements that somehow it will be reciprocated or rewarded.
It has everything to do with will.
With a decision to show love no matter what.
According to my friend, she does foster care because she feels like she can. True and simple, my friend has decided she can show love to strangers.
She opened my eyes to the realization that when she takes in a child, not only is she showing love to the child, but she is also showing love to the birth mother, to the baby’s anxious family.
“I imagine if I were in this situation, unable to care for my newborn, them being taken away from me. I can not even fathom not knowing where they would be or who they’d be with,” my friend started to explain.
“I take care of each child in honor of the mother. I take care of the child how I would want someone to take care of my child if I were in this situation.”
My friend mentioned that her preteen daughter has begun to babysit and so, she was allowed an iPhone for Christmas. My friend is suddenly trying to navigate the world of technology, apps, and social media through the lens of her daughter. “Everyone is a star in their own show and everyone wants everyone else to watch them and marvel at how special they are! It is such a challenge to raise kids in this world who aren’t completely selfish!”
I believe it’s true; technology has created a generation who values fame and self promotion above everything else.
My friend has always been determined to raise a family who reaches out to the community and others.
“Being a family who takes in foster children is one way I can combat this self centered, self focused culture. My kids are recognizing value in giving of themselves. But we are sacrificing for sure. When I get a phone call that a baby is coming, our whole organized little schedule gets flipped upside down. Suddenly our world is not about us and our little family and our little activities. Suddenly our family is all about this little person we are going to care for.”
By the time our breakfast was over, my mind was swirling. My view of love was different. I recognized that love was more than a passing thought or feeling.
My friend says that during the past ten really challenging days caring for the colicky foster baby, there was one moment that made it all worth it.
After a long afternoon of rocking and trying to sooth the baby, her eleven year old daughter came home, recognized her mother’s fatigue, and volunteered to take the restless baby.
A few moments later, she walked into a room and found her daughter with the baby in the rocking chair, the once fussy baby now fast asleep on her chest.
In that moment, she knew why she does this.
Love can be taught.
I admit that I am not choosing this for myself; for my family. But I am recognizing those who do choose this and my love is for them.
With Love is built on this vision, this choice to love.
As we enter February and think about Valentines Day, I am challenging my family to see love differently.
How can I teach my kids what it means to choose love? To decide to pursue it and hold it up against everything else?
Partnering with With Love is choosing this type of love.
It’s a choice to act.
It is a choice to make a difference.