How you survive


Dark days, Foster care / Sunday, September 29th, 2019

Dear Friend,

Thank you for sharing your fostering story with me, and your fears at the potential loss of the daughter you have loved. Your email caught at my heart, especially this line: I would like to know how to survive.

The problem is that I cannot tell you. I have tried. I cannot.

But I do know some of what you feel, and before God I promise you this: I believe you will make it through.

You don’t need a harder heart. Babies need soft hearts to implant into, the tenderness of a womb with gentle, resilient walls. Safety. Home. Don’t ever think you need to be tougher than you are. You will not survive grief by being stronger, but by being weaker – by bending down and down, laying low and lower until there is nothing left of you but a shadow on the breast of Christ.

Do not give up hope of keeping her until the moment you hand her over – and even then, know for sure that the story is not over. Give yourself permission to love her fully, not only until she leaves, but always. In my hardest child losses, it comforted me to know that what we had formed between us was real, and permanent. It was not a dream or a stage or a mirage. I became her mother – fully, completely – not her only mother, but her mother for real nonetheless. She became my darling, my daughter – and no one can ever take that away from us. She may be Not Mine, but she is also Mine.

When three children moved from my home in six weeks’ time, I wanted to beg everyone I met for a pill, a medicine, oblivion. Anything to take the edge off. I hurt, oh I hurt. Physical pain in my chest, sleep changed, hormones gone haywire. It is like a death.

I cannot tell you where God is.
I am looking for him.

I only know that he lost a child too. Please keep talking to him, even if you have to scream and rage at him. He can take it. No mother love surprises him, or outreaches his own. The grief of your uprooted child, every loss she has experienced, every tear she will cry, is etched into his heart and hands.

Though time has gone by for me, I cannot say how to heal. You breathe. You turn your mind away from death and onto life. You find a prayer book. You look for the tiny beauties, the color: a leaf, a stripe of cloud, a piece of fruit. You lose yourself in safe places: a hopeful story, a despairing playlist, art. You be with people. You tell the worst to someone. You try to love kids. Being with children is healing. You have to forgive them for not being yours, but then you may find yourself loving their dimples and soft skin and baby babbles.

There is no limit to the people we can love. I used to see my heart as a diminishing resource: a hole for every person I loved and lost. But that is not a true picture. The heart is a living thing, and every time it loves, it grows. If you go on loving, you will become something you cannot now imagine: a woman who can cry without shame and love without keeping. You will become a Mother, and every broken child in the world will be your own.

What you love is yours.

I feel the inadequacy of my words to you. I imagine that, like me, you want an answer: something to swallow or do or break or understand that will make the difference, make this bearable. I cannot promise you peace. But I can promise you that this is not the end.

Please go on.
Shari

23 Replies to “How you survive”

  1. Can’t tell you how I needed to read this. As a teacher in an elementary school, I am loving children not my own and feeling like it is too hard for me. One of my students is in foster care. Some of the others possibly should be. I’ve shed secret tears every day this past week for the pain I see in my children’s eyes. I beg God to make me “a woman who can cry without shame and love without keeping”. Thank you for writing this and letting me read it.

    1. I have never had foster children but this makes sense. I’ve thought that foster care is not something I would handle very well. But…we can do all things through Christ….and yet…! For you to still feel like we ought to love the foster child in our care freely, after all you’ve gone through, speaks of healing. God is good.

  2. This my friend spoke to my heart. “There is no limit to the people we can love.” Thank you for sharing from your heart and reassuring me that it is ok to reach out and love deeply again. Most of all I appreciate your last paragraph. God gives us peace beyond mere human understanding, when we ask Him too. As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are sad, he was not our son, but he held a very special place in our hearts. God is with us here too. Jane

    1. So good! I needed this. I look at all the hurting children and my heart throb is to help them. To once more be well enough to do fostering and babysitting. I keep giving it to God… This deep pain of loving so deeply but it’s not God’s timing yet. This pain, this throwing it all on God. Survival mode. God knows. God cares. Keep giving it to Him. Somehow He pulls us through and we become stronger.

  3. “You will not survive grief by being stronger, but by being weaker – by bending down and down, laying low and lower until there is nothing left of you but a shadow on the breast of Christ.”
    Oh… ❣️

  4. I love what you said about growing by loving people, rather than each love and lost being a hole in our hearts.
    Beautiful, beautiful thoughts, that wouldn’t have come about without deep water and hard paths.
    Thank you!

  5. I needed this so much today. Having said goodbye five weeks ago to two little boys we hoped we could keep forever, I am in the middle of wondering how to survive. Thank you for these words that spoke right to my heart!

  6. You will not survive grief by being stronger, but by being weaker – by bending down and down, laying low and lower until there is nothing left of you but a shadow on the breast of Christ –
    Not to steal your words here and however sardonic this sounds, this is the only way I will survive motherhood. I know nothing of fostering but drowning in motherhood? – yes.
    Thank you for these words!

  7. Beautiful words, which remind me of these which have breathed courage into my heart in seasons of shattering loss….”Grief is the price we pay for love, and the only cure for grief is to grieve.”
    (Also, I highly recommend The Grief Recovery/Loss 101 classes, if they should ever be available in your area.)

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences. We have a daughter we raised from birth, and although it doesn’t seem today like our loss is imminent, we are living in the tension of concurrent goals, knowing we could lose her at any time even while they work toward TPR. To know others have survived and been given strength to keep mothering is one of the hopes that I hold to.

  9. God be with you on this journey… you will survive, even the hardest things in life, with Gods help!! You may look back and wonder how you survived, and then you will know it was Gods Grace, that carried you!
    I’m a Mother that survived the wild ride of raising a family, only by Gods Grace. Now a Grandma, of little Grandsons. And a Grandma to Foster children who went back to sad situations. The Foster Children are never beyond the reach of Prayers!

  10. Thank you Shari. I cried a lot this morning as I naturally paraphrased it for my story. Connected with so much. Loved ~ “You will not survive grief by being stronger, but by being weaker – by bending down and down, laying low and lower until there is nothing left of you but a shadow on the breast of Christ.”

  11. “The heart is a living thing, and every time it loves, it grows. If you go on loving, you will become something you cannot now imagine: a woman who can cry without shame and love without keeping.” I’m copying this into my quotes book.

  12. Our social worker emailed this week and said they are ready to start the home study process whenever we are. Talk about stepping out onto the water. I’m afraid we will sink. Your words are just what I needed. I can see the Master. Thank you Shari.

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