My wife and I have been going through a foster adoption application process (so we haven’t been certified yet but hope to be). We’re part of a group of applicants going through the process, which involves taking classes. In one of the classes, they brought in a guest speaker who was a veteran foster mom. And by veteran, I mean she has fostered 43 children and adopted 4 of them. Needless to say, all of us were astounded at the staggering number of kids she fostered, where she would’ve spent 6 to 18 months with a child. In this class session, we were discussing the emotional difficulties of “letting go” of the child, which can be the case depending on court orders. The tension is that to be “good” foster parents you’re expected to love and care for the child like the child is your own, but until the adoptions are finalized you may “lose” the child back to the birth parent at any time in the process. For this particular veteran mom, it was not her intention to adopt all 43 children. She fostered the other 39 kids because it was her intention to provide the foster care.
In the room of about 50 people, I raised my hand to ask the obvious question I believed was on everyone else’s minds as well. “Since you’ve fostered a total of 43 children, how have you emotionally and personally dealt with letting go of the ones you didn’t adopt?” She said, “We cry each time. It’s very difficult. My husband said, ‘The day we stop crying over letting go of the child is the day we have to stop being foster parents.’” She explained more about the emotional joys of having a child for a period and the difficulties of letting that child go, especially after you have welcomed that child in as a part of your family and loved him/her if even for a brief period. She believed strongly that the time she has with the children leaves a mark on them that will stay with them all their lives. But I thought the next question I believed others thought too but no one asked, how could you keep doing this? How could you keep putting yourself through that kind of pain each and every time? As my wife and I go through this process, we dread the possibility of “losing” the first child we foster – we hope to adopt. Though, we know the probability of us not being able to “keep” the first child we take in. The veteran mom, however, answered the question that was on my mind and she said something simply that stuck to me. She said, “We do this because we believe it’s our calling.”
Calling. There’s that word again. What does it exactly mean? I think most people desire to live for a calling. It means you’re living for something greater than the satisfaction of your own desires even at the risk of pain and at the expense of peace. Normally, we would avoid pain. The simple humanistic rule is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But when would we choose pain? When would we willingly, consciously and intentionally choose to put ourselves in a place where pain is a likely result? For this veteran mom, she bore her pain every time she let go of a child she fell in love with as her own son or daughter. But she willingly bore that pain by choice because that pain had purpose. The purpose was found in the calling. The satisfaction she found in life was not pleasure per se (though there is reward in knowing the difference you made in the child’s life) but in the fulfillment of that calling. In the foster classes, they keep reminding us: this is about the children not about the parents. That’s our focus. I think one of the powerful aspects of having a calling in life is you learn the virtuous, noble meaning of being a servant. You learn to serve. The foster parents I saw in the room with me were servants. In living for what pleases us, we only know how to live for ourselves. In living for a calling, we learn to serve that calling. That’s when pain has purpose and pleasure has a new definition in light of the calling. We begin to understand the meaning of something bigger than us. I think it’s only when we discover living for something bigger than us is life worth living.